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Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey

2017-04-07 07:35
 

What it's about:

Lafras Verwey has been a clerk in the civil service for 30 years. By day, he sorts files and whiles away the mundane hours writing grandiose propaganda speeches and drilling imaginary platoons in the washroom, but, unbeknownst to his colleagues, he’s also a clandestine parcel courier for a secret organisation that recruited his services to complete their covert mission.

What we thought:

Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey is quite an odd Afrikaans film, that doesn’t quite fit in with the serious Afrikaans dramas, rom-coms and slapstick comedies.

Adapted from a stage play by the late famous writer Chris Barnard who wrote the Paljas screenplay, it’s a story that likes to make the audience feel uncomfortable with a man that you’re not quite sure you want to hug or admit to an insane asylum. The awkwardness of his delusions and his interactions with the people around him fails to be quirky and makes you feel like you need to escape the film.

Lafras (Tobie Cronje) has been working for the government for almost 30 years, but secretly harbours an intense resentment for the established system he lives in. While working for a secret underground rebel organisation, he takes under his roof a desperate pregnant woman (Chantell Phillipus) with no one to help her.

Lafras is when awkwardness meets insanity, and from the get-go he is proven to be an unreliable narrator of his own life. He is an extreme case of everyone’s dissatisfaction with their lives, the opportunities they’ve been denied and the hate for a system that only seems to benefit those already on top. Throw in paranoia and emotional instability, and you get Lafras. The audience can’t really figure out if they should be scared of him or feel sorry for him, and that seesaw makes it a hard film to watch, constantly squirming in your seat. Perhaps that was the point for the filmmakers, but you’d have to be a theater enthusiast to enjoy it.

Cronje, however, does give a marvelous performance, and the film’s shortcomings mostly lies with how the main character is written and directed rather than the actor’s skills. Phillipus was a bit bland, compared to her compelling performance in Abraham, and it felt like she got steamrolled most of the time by Cronje. I have never seen the story play out on stage, but on film it felt like it was awkwardly being shoved into a box that it didn’t fit. 

Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey just couldn’t make itself watchable or entertaining, and tried too hard to mimic the unique style of veteran South African directors like Katinka Heyns and Jans Rautenbach. However, I do appreciate its attempt at broadening our country’s Afrikaans cinema repertoire, but sadly we still have a long way to go before local art cinema finds it foothold in a commercially viable audience. For this one though, you’d have to grit your teeth and take one for the Afrikaans cinema team.  

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