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Thread: THE HARVESTERS (Etienne Kallos 2018)

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    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE HARVESTERS (Etienne Kallos 2018)



    A brooding Afrikaans debut

    South Africa, Free State region, isolated stronghold to the dwindling Afrikaans white ethnic minority culture.* The Harvesters takes us into the heart of a farm in this conservative farming territory obsessed with strength and masculinity.* Here, Janno is different, secretive, emotionally frail.* He's strong, tall and square-jawed, but dewy eyed and pure, his look of vulnerability heightened by the standard short shorts of his khaki outfit and his bare white legs.* It's a sight to see him out in the vast arid fields cracking a long whip in his shorts, herding* the steers, while his father rides horseback nearby.* The film makes stunning use of the environment, the big rambling house (from a distance where it ends can't quite be discerned), the herds, the dray plains extending off to low mountains.* This is first of all a portrait of a place and a life, and it's mentioned early on that farm murders are on the increase, and the Afrikaaners see themselves (rightly) as an endangered species, this danger intensifying every scene.

    One day Janno's mother (Juliana Venter), fiercely religious like the whole family, brings home Pieter, a hardened street orphan she wants to adopt and save, and asks Janno to make this stranger into his brother. The two boys start a fight for power, heritage and parental love. The film got a standing ovation at its debut in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.*
    In the lead as Janno, beefy and rugby-playing but soft-faced youth Alex Vermeulen is a feat of perfect casting, and as his sudden opponent Pieter, Alex van Dyk isn't far behind. The Greek-descent director, who grew up in the Free State, and has won awards for shorts, returned home to craft this moody debut with its unique grand, harsh landscape and minimal music. This strange world reminded me of Carlos Reygadas' <a href="">Silent Light</a> (NYFF 2007).* This is a stunning, commanding film.

    The father's machismo and the mother's religiosity interpenetrate in the whole family, the four foster child "sisters," and Janno. The father is not mean, just firm.* Janno is a vivid presence, but somehow a vague, uncertain one as well.* He is emerges as being, despite what he wants to think,* as somehow* excluded by his "friends" of the rugby game, who, in this same world, eschew him as soft and somehow strange or incomplete.* And they're not wrong to do so.* Janno's erotic bedroom fantasy is of being hugged by another boy after a game at man camp.**
    Along comes the scrawny Pieter (made harder looking when the mom gives him a crew cut with electric clippers), an immediate threat to Janno as the alpha male offspring, Janno tries to teach him proper ways, but Pieter is everything Janno is not.* He was born to a fifteen-year-old prostitute who died of an overdose, and was a street hustler hooked on drugs.* He liked the street life, and scorns the simple, boring farm-town people he's suddenly been assigned to.* He is hard, sure of himself, and exudes a sense of fun and mockery.* Emotionally he is tough and hard-shelled. When he adopts a stray dog (disapproved of by Janno) that kills a couple of neighbor's sheep, he insists on being the one to shoot the dog, showing how resilient* he is.
    The mother repeatedly prays to make Janno "Strong of heart, strong of flesh, strong of seed," showing she senses he isn't.* *Pieter doesn't lose any of his spunk in the new environment, however he may find it alien.* *He leads Janno on an escape one night to a rough club on the wild side for drinks and dance, then goes off to trick with an old man, to Janno's horror.* Pieter winds up in jail. When the famiy comes to retrieve him, he acts repentant* - but he is sent to man camp.*
    Thereafter, the struggle of the two boys continues. At times the film may even seem too explicit, too predetermined.* But then even up to the end it can still rather shock and surprise you too, and as a creation of mood and evocation of environment it never fails. It's a powerful, original, and disturbing film above all notable for its pervasive atmosphere .* The landscape shots are some of its most memorable images. Etienne Kallos is a talent to watch.

    For some background see <a href="">here</a>; for aVariety review by Guy Lodge, <a href="">here</a>.**

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-14-2019 at 11:55 AM.


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