Attie (Neels van Jaarsveld) slurs words about broken dreams when Juan (Vilje Maritz) finds him collapsed on the floor in his usual drunkard state. The “bewonderment” of the king and his little prince warding off dragons, learning a special language and accepting gifts from fairies and dwarfs is but a fading memory. All young Juan sees in his father now is a drunk that caused great disappointment, embarrassment, and failure. It is the image of a man he never wants to be.
How sad it must be to long for the day you can escape your father, a feeling Juan shares with the beautiful girl next door. Ellie Niewehoudt longs for the fatherly love she sees next door. Her home is filled with rules and excessive lashing. Juan has a drunk father, while Ellie has a tyrant father. Together they build a new life in London.
Many years later Juan (Greg Kriek) and his wife, Ellie (Elma Postma), receive word that his mother (Sandra Prinsloo) is terminally ill, encouraging their first flight home from London. When they return, Ellie can’t help but look over the fence towards the memory of abuse and neglect. Many truths about those hard times are yet to unravel, but she remains hopeful that things could turn out differently for Juan at least. Restless by her bedside, Juan listens to his mother’s three wishes; dinner together every night, restore the Volvo with your father and teach my grandson Afrikaans. Juan reluctantly agrees.
The confined space surrounding the old 1968 Volvo Amazon is filled with anxious resentment, but, as with all broken things, it takes hard work and commitment to grind and sand away the many layers to find the core, before a new coat can be given. And so, working on the car is the embodiment of the emotional reconciliation between father and son.
‘n Man soos my Pa travels through past and present from the 1970’s to the present day with delicate sophistication. The viewer is given an objective insight to the development and motivation behind each character. Everyone has a dream and everyone has a past – something that Juan is yet to discover.
But the film isn’t all tears and heartbreak, it is also filled with humor and positivity. In no way will you feel devastated. Although it deals with difficult themes, it inspires viewers to ask the right questions within your own life. Re-evaluate your family relationships and hopefully shed a new perspective on what it means. This story isn’t just about broken relationships between father and child. It takes courage and willingness to be honest about the past, and more so with yourself. There is lots of laughter as we watch happier times, relatable childhood games, beautiful gestures of love and the innocence of discovering love. Your heart warms at these moments, as you remember your own life. It will make you want to page through old photo albums dusting away on the shelf at home.
It is impossible to single out one performance. The whole cast delivers pristine performances. Else worked closely with each one, focusing on intensive back stories and mannerisms, habitual patterns, physically and vocally that is evident in each actor’s portrayal throughout the various years and changes. “Finding the soul of the character”, as Else explained it. It is so easy to be distracted by such a massive star cast, to get swooped up in all the famous faces, but the ensemble work is refreshing.
Else’s directorial style is well rooted in his training as an actor, communicating a very clear vision, while allowing creative freedom that translates flawlessly on screen. Naturally, the way the characters were written helped the actors immensely. It is a valuable skill to write well-rounded characters, that aren’t stereotypical. The diverse purpose and personalities of both male and female characters, showing the many roles and strengths each gender brings to the family dynamic.
Although written in Afrikaans and set in South Africa, ‘n Man Soos My Pa has universal appeal. It could have been located anywhere in the world, but Else has a passion about telling stories from a local perspective that can transcend internationally. This is not an Afrikaans story, but a deeply emotional human story, about the importance of family in a flawed society.
Prepare yourself for a mesmerizing viewing experience, that deserves applause on all fields. Apart from the emotional rollercoaster, your eyes and ears can get lost in the happy nostalgia of detailed set design, wardrobe and the melodies of Koos Kombuis, David Kramer, and Koos du Plessis.
Release date: 20 November 2015