MOVIE REVIEW: Die Stropers is a cryptic slow burner with a vague ending

Brent Vermeulen.
Brent Vermeulen.

Die Stropers
Director: Etienne Kallos
Starring: Brent Vermeulen, Alex van Dyk
. . . - -

Greek South African film maker Etienne Kallos deftly delves into Afrikaner identity in his sparse, atmospheric debut feature Die Stropers.

In it, the world of 15-year-old Jannu (Brent Vermeulen) is disrupted when his family adopts Pieter (Alex van Dyk), a troubled orphan of the same age.

Jannu is a “goeie seun”, a disciplined boy who obeys his parents, works hard, says his prayers at night and conforms to all conservative Afrikaans expectations of masculinity. Pieter, on the other hand, comes from “the city” (assumingly Johannesburg), and is streetwise, disobedient and troubled.

At first, Jannu obeys his mother’s wishes and takes Pieter under his wing, hoping that farm life will transform the boy from a drug-addicted teen into someone who can fit into the community.

But Pieter’s scorn for the churchgoing, rugby-playing Afrikaners around him not only flies in the face of Jannu’s efforts, but makes Jannu question his own values.

Not only that, but the introduction of another “male”, and an interloper at that, to compete for fatherly approval and motherly love makes Pieter a threat to Jannu’s familial position.

Young actors Vermeulen and Van Dyk are a revelation in this film. Vermeulen perfectly plays a teenage Afrikaner suddenly disillusioned by his identity (something almost all Afrikaners go through at some point in their lives), while Van Dyk is perfect as the shrewd antagonist.

Die Stropers is full of metaphor and loaded meanings.

The constant references to Christianity make Jannu and Pieter’s story a sort of Cain and Abel analogy, with the brooding threat of violence a constant in the film. Masculinity, culture and sexuality all play a part, as does belonging and alienation.

Unfortunately, Die Stropers ends cryptically and never ties up all the themes and loose ends of the story.

The mother character, played by Juliana Venter, never gets much of a motive besides a religious calling to taking in wayward orphans, and the dementia-riddled grandfather is nothing more than a signifier used to introduce the idea of land ownership.

Though it left me impressed by the cinematography, acting and score, I felt that ending it so vaguely was an opportunity lost.

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