What it's about:
Through soil, people become connected, lives intertwining like deep roots. It is from the soil that everything grows, and it is the soil that ultimately becomes a resting place. To farm is to understand the volatility of soil. Without farmers there is no produce, but without soil, there is no life. This is the painful story of a farming community in South Africa trying to survive the onslaught of farm attacks confronting them almost every day, affecting not only those related to the victims, but setting in motion a chain of events.Amidst this anxiety, Lukas Van Staden tries to protect his family, his friends, and his farm. Relationships, regret, revenge and forgiveness are brought together by one circumstance from which hope and healing arises.
What we thought:
It can't be denied that violence on farms is a big problem in South Africa. Farmers and their families’ isolation make them prime targets for burglaries, but unfortunately it’s not a simple ‘take-and-leave’ mentality that goes with it. Horrific acts are a common factor in these attacks, so much so that certain groups in South Africa have termed it a ‘white genocide’ (a debate for a whole different article). It's an ideal subject for a film as a way to explore the root cause of this violence as well as possible solutions to alleviate it, but unfortunately Treurgrond went in the one-sided direction of melodramatic emotions designed to tug at the heartstrings of the audience instead of actually dealing sincerely with the issue.The story revolves around a devoted, morally flawless farmer (Steve Hofmeyr) that appears to be perfect in how he handles his farm, his workers and those around him. While trying to deal with a land claim on his farm, a brutal farm attack leaves the community paranoid and on edge. A captain and her lieutenant try to find the people responsible, but not before another farm is attacked.For a film that deals with such a sensitive issue, one should not cast in the lead a man whose public image rivals that of President Zuma in terms of scandalous. Steve Hofmeyr’s questionable Twitter nuggets and public outbursts have been termed both racist and ludicrous and made most Afrikaners cringe. And then to cast him in a role that makes him look like the perfect human being makes it feel like this film is more a contrived effort to improve his public image than focusing on the issues at hand. He obviously had a big hand in helping get this movie made by being vocal over farm murders, but he should have stayed behind-the-scenes.You can’t really fault the other actors on their skills, which is actually a good pool of talent. Unfortunately that talent was used in a script that preferred the melodrama to subtlety. If I had to choose, the head cop (Jana Strydom) was my favourite, a hardened captain trying to find the culprits and attempting to deal with the horror she is faced with daily. Out of all the characters, she had the most depth and realness.The murders themselves are also extremely dramatised, with hands and feet cut off, eyes gouged out and put in a fridge as well as pools of blood. The filmmakers went all out to make it as gory as possible, attacking the emotions of the audience as much as possible. At one point you have to stop and ask – are we getting to the core of the problem? The film certainly makes you feel for the victims, but that’s not hard to do when the villains are ethereal demons that come and go leaving destruction in their wake. Instead of showing why these perpetrators attack these communities with such ferocity, and ways to prevent them from happening, Treurgrond is more concerned with blood and gore. The over-the-top political correctness of this film also makes it feel far removed from reality, thus the issue becomes far removed from the audience.The worst part of the film though is its product placement. A focused shot on brands here and there is fine, a financing agreement that helps make better films, but when an entire film feels like one long advertisement for agriculture companies and brands, again the core message of the film becomes lost. It was absolutely ridiculous, with one character specifically referencing his Mochachos cheese burger, characters in a bar commenting on an advertisement playing on the bar TV and finally, an entire montage with the sole aim of showing off brands. Director Darrel Roodt, an Oscar-nominated director for Yesterday and director of Sarafina!, should have known better than to attach himself to such a marketing gimmick of a film. Violent attacks on farms deserve proper treatment, and Treurgrond was not it.
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