2017-09-22 08:03

What it's about:

Vaselinetjie tells the story of Helena ‘Vaselinetjie’ Bosman, a white girl raised by her loving brown grandparents in a remote rural village in the Northern Cape, South Africa. However, upon learning that Vaselinetjie is not their biological grandchild, the welfare intervenes and decides to send Vaselinetjie to a state orphanage in the far away city of Johannesburg.  Life in Johannesburg does not resemble her prior existence and is in vivid contrast to it. For the first time, Vaselinetjie is confronted with the harsh realities of life.

What we thought:

When Vaselinetjie is ten years old, two officials from Welfare step in and remove her from her grandparents’ home in Upington and send her to a boarding school in Gauteng.  

The students at the boarding school taunt and mock Vaselinetjie because of her "coloured accent," asking her why she speaks like a "hotnot."    

But it becomes evident early on in the onscreen adaption of Anoeschka von Meck's novel that not enough attention was given to executing language and regional variants. 

Instead Nicole Bond (young Vaselinetjie) and Marguerite van Eeden (older Vaselinetjie) sounded like Afrikaans speaking actresses who were not correctly coached or were not able to capture the Northern Cape dialect, which left me with a great sense of inauthenticity. 

The director tried to hide these shortcomings by giving Nicole Bond very little dialogue, and having her tell her story mainly through body language.    

The adaptation suffered from major condensing, leaving out vital story arcs and romanticising her experience at the boarding school. This brought on poor pacing and poor character development. 

The movie took Vaselinetjie  - a complex character - and  greatly simplified her.  

However, the local film still deserves merit for the stunning cinematography. The small village of Bulletrap in Northern Cape is captured beautifully with light playing a key factor in capturing the mood and milieu. 

Vaselinetjie succeeds in telling the story of a young girl being ripped away from her family and shoved into a world of uncertainty, which then brings us to a story of a girl’s journey to self-discovery. But only brushes over the core issues of race identity in a post Apartheid South Africa.

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