By Laurie Scarborough
I’ll preface this review by saying that my Afrikaans is very swak. But like, very swak. So I will not embarrass myself by writing this in Afrikaans.
My poor Afrikaans, coupled with the five torturous years of forced Afrikaans film studies during school has not put Afrikaans movies in an exciting place in my memory. So it was with much trepidation that I walked into the cinema to watch Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling. But I shouldn’t have been so worried.
The film follows a journalist begrudgingly working at a gossipy tabloid newspaper as she investigates the mysterious disappearance of a famous writer, Jacques Rynhard. I thought I was going to struggle to understand the plot but moenie worry nie vriende, daar was subtitles en alles. I was immediately drawn in by the enigma of the writer with a dark secret.
The plot was thick and layered, with many twists, surprises and nail-biting action scenes. The story is told by flipping between the present day, mostly following the journalist Carina Human, and the past. As she uncovers the secrets of Rynhard’s past, the audience watches the younger Rynhard and his two best friends as their story unfolds.
In terms of casting, it goes without saying that Armand Aucamp’s Jacques Rynhard was excellent. This seasoned actor has finally received the media attention he deserves, and now Afrikaans and English girls alike are swooning in his wake. His layered performance of the writer showed off his acting ability and cemented his future in Afrikaans film. One of his final lines of the film “Help yourself” left you cold as walked strongly out of frame.
I was, however, really impressed with the younger cast members, playing the teenaged versions of Jacques, his two best friends, and childhood bully, Gert. All of them give honest and compelling performances. Miles Petzer as the horrifying Gert character was most disturbing and menacing. In reality Petzer is the polar opposite of his teenaged delinquent character. He is friendly, sweet and wonderfully ginger-haired. It was jarring to see him play such a role with so much conviction, showing for not the first time that he is a very capable actor.
The musical score for the film was excellent. The percussive tracks that incorporated the sound of a typewriter were genius, and the music pulled the movie through nail-biting tension, soft romance, and painful tragedy.
Thematically, the film’s tagline “Moenie dink nie. Doen net.” shows for not the first time that “just do it” may not be the best motto to live by. As tragedy and misfortune unfold in Rynhard’s life, he has to learn that “enkeling beteken okay with yourself”, by accepting his past and moving forward.
The one problem I had with the movie was the subtitles. There were times when I was listening to the dialogue and reading the subtitles and I noticed that the translations didn’t always capture the essence of what was said. Afrikaans is a famously descriptive language, and those of us who are more monolingual than bilingual would have lost out on the richer descriptions and the more accurate translation of the dialogue.
I also thought that a bigger question was left unanswered. The plot revolved largely around a journalist conducting an investigation into the very private personal lives of people. And while in the end, the truth of Jacque Rynhard’s difficult past came out and it should have, the ends can’t always justify the means. People’s personal lives are not automatically the right of the inquisitive journalist. I think a harder look at journalism ethics and individual privacy could have been woven in to the story alongside the film’s condemnation of sensationalising news and twisting facts in the media.
Despite these minor imperfections, Ballade was definitely the best South African film I’ve seen. It’s worth braving the cold for an outing to the silver screen. You can book tickets here: http://www.numetro.co.za/movie/7719/ or http://www.sterkinekor.com/#/info/6840/Ballade%20vir%20n%20Enkeling%20/
Read our Q & A with Armand Aucamp here: https://sbamtheatreblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/q-a-with-armand-aucamp/
Read our Q & A with Miles Petzer here: https://sbamtheatreblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/q-a-with-miles-petzer/