2015-10-16 15:19

What it's about:

Abraham, a dedicated husband and father, struggles to provide for his young wife, Katie, and their four-year-old daughter. But, through his creative determination, he finds patronage in Jong Jans and his Jong’s wife, Almeri. Abraham and Katie settle into their new home, working for Jong and Almeri, but Katie’s battles with mental illness and alcoholism rock the boat. Abraham staunchly supports his wife, but his own ambitions as an artist make him restless. Abraham is a dreamer who wishes to rise above his station in life and make his mark on the world, but the realities of his circumstances get in the way of happiness.

What we thought:

Jans Rautenbach might have been decades before my time, but his film work during the Apartheid era had had a lasting effect on the South African cinema industry. Dubbed the father of Afrikaans art films, Rautenbach is famous for his critical films Die Kandidaat and Katrina, but he’s been off the scene for 30 years, until Abraham came along. A true account of a personal experience that has haunted him ever since, Abraham is a symbol of the lost artists of South Africa, whose dreams never sprouted big enough wings to carry them to recognition.

Set on Rautenbach’s farm Oulap in Kannaland, Abraham is a young father and husband trying to make ends meet through his sculptures. Dedicated to his work, he insinuates himself into the life of the only other artist in his world – Rautenbach – who begrudgingly becomes his main patron. Blind to his wife’s alcoholism and depression, Abraham’s dreams become too big to carry, leaving a mark on the community and the conscious of Rautenbach himself.

Filmmakers normally draw on their personal experiences to influence their work, but it takes a very brave filmmaker to share such a personal experience, especially one laden with guilt. And he refuses to distance himself from the film, becoming the narrator and showing his vulnerability. One would think this film could’ve easily revolve around him, but instead a intense focus is placed on Abraham, a man that dances when he’s both happy and sad and is consumed by the desire to create.

Not only does the film take on the spirit of art, it also paints a portrait of people of Kannaland, the circumstances they are born into, their pride in who they are as well as the ever present need to escape. Abraham refers to his proud lineage many times, which resolves him to be more than his circumstances. His wife Katie struggles with depression, and self-medicates through alcohol, a well-known reality for those who do not have access to help. Watching their lives unravel, one cannot help but think how different it would’ve been if they were born into white middle-class family, with Abraham’s talent nurtured and Katie receiving help from doctors. This is amplified when Rautenbach gifts the artist a book, explaining to him how a book can unlock the mind, but in a world where access to knowledge is scarce, the key breaks the lock in Abraham’s mind.

Not only is the cinematography and artwork in the film breathtaking, but the characters string together the most beautiful Afrikaans prose, like something out of a poetry book. It also helps to have such a talented cast, especially Dann-Jacques Mouton who plays the tragic Abraham and Chantell Phillipus who plays Katie. The chemistry between the two is powerful yet soft, switching between extreme love and extreme anger.

But most poignantly the film shows the dangers of not listening to those whose desperation cannot find words, and the responsibility one has to the person whose world one has opened through knowledge.

A slow yet emotionally intense film, Abraham is a must-see for all art lovers and cinephiles and is a lovely break  between the slapstick and the rom-coms of Afrikaans films. At the end, Rautenbach achieved what he wanted to do, and that is to say, "Ek is jammer."

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