Monday, March 11, 2013

The Meeting, The Speakers and a DVD Review

THE MEETING by Andrew Verster 

“I didn’t see your mother at church this morning.”
“You didn’t see her last Sunday either.”
“You are right. Come to think of it.”
“Not surprising, she’s dead.”
“My mother.”
“That was sudden.”
“Not really. She died three years ago.”
“YOUR mother? Are you sure?”
“MY mother, of course.”
“My mind is playing tricks, Janet.”
“Of course. How silly of me.”
“And you are?”
“Pleased to meet you.”

Andrew Verster is a World Famous Artist and Writer 

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A DVD Review of ‘Wonderwerker’-  A Film by Katinka Heyns by Timothy Sparks
A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought, there is visible labour”.   Victor Hugo
The film ‘Wonderwerker ‘is set two years before the Union of South in 1910. It is a film of much introspection and the interior motivation of its characters play within themselves. Inward thinking is regarded as one of the defining aspects that define a poet.  It is in this wilderness that the Poet that Marais was able to write some of his finest poetry. Eugene Nielen Marais wrote the poem Winternag (Winternight) verses which echo through the years for almost every Afrikaner, “O koud is die windjie en skraal. En blink in die dof-lig en kaal, so wyd as die Heer se genade, le die velde in sterlig en skade…” one has a feeling for the greatness of the man, and of the Poet. Eugene Marais remains an enigma more than eighty years after his death.

In the film Marais inhabits a beautiful place in the imagination.
The old Poet, despite his problems with Morphine used to treat Malaria, nonetheless, finds love unexpectedly. The main story entices with its poignantly humane story. Science, Art, History are themes at the heart; they mould Marais’ identity and youthful longing, to reveal the wounds that lie unresolved through the passage of time. Appearing, partly as biography, it is also a meditation on time, but the story unfolds with the arrival of Eugene Marais on a farm in the Waterberge district in Northern Transvaal.
Dawid Minaar plays the sensitive poet who is taken in by the family. Always in the back of the mind, however is the recognition of fate and Marais’ violent death.  We see the many parts of this fascinating man. In my first years at University, I was drawn to the lewensverhaal (life-story) of one Eugene N. Marais. The flow of these pages in ‘The Dark Stream: The Story of Eugene Marais’ by Leon Marais read in English, is as moving as watching this remarkable two-hour voyage in the presence of this Volksbesit (loosely translates as-Nation’s treasure).

The affectionate relationship that unfolds between Jane Brayshaw (Anneke Weidemann), and Eugene Marais takes us into the world where science and passion meet. The plot drives us into this intriguing dance of a mind searching, and a soul grappling with love; his past and mortality. The acting of theatre and film legends Elize Cawood as Tante van Rooyen and Marius Weyers as Oom Gys van Rooyen provide the superb foil for the strange patient whose arrival changes the life of the young girl. The rite of passage of the Poet cut adrift in illness and inner tumult is intriguing as is the barren heart of the traditional Boer, represented by Gys van Rooyen which contradicts the sensual attitudes of the Poet. Elegy meets drama beautifully as van Rooyen’s wife adandons herself in heart and convenience to the dreams of reviving her patient, but also drawing inspiration from this contact. 

An important message of this film is lead by the ability of youthful passion to change a life. All these while regarding the poet in his native background. Doctor or Poet!? The voice that narrates from the beginning starts in 1932 recounting the meeting between the girl and the sick poet years earlier. The heroine tells the story as the arrival of Marais at the farm unfolds on the screen. Set in Flashback mode it is a perfect beginning of the story. Retreating back into the past, in this instance 1908 allows the young Jane Brayshaw to speak of this youthful fragment of her past. 

It is Interesting that two films have emerged in the past six months that show that Afrikaans cinema, against the odds, fortunately still has a strong presence in South Africa. ‘Verraaiers’ is showing at Gateway at the moment. 

Katinka Heyns, the famous director of ‘Paljas,’ made fifteen years ago, fills her film with subtle or speculative explorations of her characters. Loss, passion and the importance emotion plays in literature and love jolts the memory. Eugene Marais treats the young girl on the farm as his protégé, a young lady in the first blossom of youth: seemingly restless in her puzzled and youthful embrace of her mentor. Not since ‘Paljas’ (Katinka Heyn’s lovely film of 1998) have we seen the values of mature skill, rendered so magnificently by a prominent South African film director. ‘Wonderwerker’ reveal s the complexity of the man behind the poems.

The film unfolds in this beautiful landscape. Heyns manages to create an enchanting atmosphere in her films and she accords herself time to covey the depths that are hinted at in the poems of Eugene Marais.  
‘Wonderwerker’ compiles the history of the poet, gently weaving Marais’ fondness for natural history and scientific pursuits. Eugene Marais wrote the famous book ‘Die Siel van die Mier’ 1925: translated as ‘The Soul of the White Art’ 1937 which reveals his innate love of animals and his recovery of the farm are determined by the relationships he fosters and the study of the beautiful relationship between him and the young girl. The date of the film is not accidental coming six years after  die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog (The Second Boer War: 1899-1902) but the turmoil of the private world, especially Marais’ accounts of love’s won and lost make this a very original film. Science, reason and love all are heavily pitted against passion.  These dual parts in his nature are beautifully executed in the film. Marais seems haunted by his past. Morphine claims a part in the story and the enslavements that work upon us in daily life. Eugene’s Marais opium addition is second only to the sad and forlorn story of English Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose bondage stirred both his poetry and genius but discoloured his life. It is important to acknowledge that Eugene Marais died, by his own hand, shooting himself on the farm of the writer Gustav Preller in March of 1936.

Memory plays a role, the memory of the desires of countrymen no longer with us. On the farm Marais and Oom van Rooyen’s characters talk about farms, their prospects and dreams of mining. Land and identity are strong themes. One of the most beautiful parts of the film is result of a hike in the mountains, when Dawid Minaar’s character and Weyers character look for seams in the lovely landscape of the Waterberge. ‘Wonderwerker’ is a hidden gem, almost with a feel of an eighties masterpiece like ‘Jean de Florette’ or the fine film adaptations of Marcel Pagnol’s rural fables ‘La Chateau de ma mere’,’ La gloire de mon pere’.
Cinematography, dialogue and direction are seamless (the delicious platteland plays a role of its own) as is the delicate portrayal of Eugene Marais’ life midst the emotional deliberations of Maria van Rooyen, and the goings on in family life. Weyers does a fine job in portraying the taciturn father of the wayward son, Adriaan van Rooyen. A subplot involves Jane Brayshaw being molested by the boy Adrian. Much of this is alluded to mysteriously without showing these scenes.  Dawid Minaar draws himself into this ceremony of convalescence but one notices his emotional healing has a price. The lasting impression is the steady portrayal of Marais and his sense of betrayal at the hands of his hosts. No bitterness clouds what is a beautiful tenderness in his relationship with Jane Brayshaw.  

‘Wonderwerker’ is a taste of the past, worth savouring. Told with humility and candour, not only is this film a master-class in acting but reveals some of the flaws of the heart of man, especially our place in this beautiful world.  Anneke Wiedemann   as Jane Brayshaw is very capable her role, almost carrying the entire film with the powerful gestures and lucid emotions that she weighs with a maturity beyond her years. Minaar in the role of the Poet creates a potent figure, and we assume the weaknesses become his strength as Marais accepts his fate. The figure that emerges is a worthy addition to both Afrikaans folklore and South African cinema.

It is Interesting that two films have emerged in the past six months; that fortunately show that Afrikaans cinema, against the odds, still has a strong presence in South Africa. ‘Verraaiers’ directed and written by Henk Pretorius is showing at Gateway at the moment. A copy of Katinka Heyn’s ‘Wonderwerker’ is available at Video Mogul in Musgrave Road.

Timothy Sparks is a freelance writer 

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