The Afrikaner identity has become increasingly mercurial in the last few decades as evidenced by documentaries like Fokofpolisiekar and Boers at the End of the World. Disillusioned youth and communities lost in time are two pillars of Die Stopers or The Harvesters, a moody coming-of-age drama from writer-director Etienne Kallos. It centres on a cattle farm in the Free State, where a conservative Afrikaans family are trying to rehabilitate and integrate a troubled teenager from the city into their adoptive home and small community.
Atmospheric and poetic, the film drives conflict through its culture clash between a conservative community and an outsider, whose entry stirs up emotions and reframes the norm. Centring on a brotherly Cain and Abel-type relationship between two boys, Janno and Pieter, the drama explores themes such as family values, gender, spirituality and sexuality. Committing everything to prayer and trying to essentially exorcise the boy from his troubled past, Die Stropers builds on relational tensions and flirts with the edge. Good casting, solid performances, a poetic treatment and a haunting quality echo other contemporary Afrikaans dramas like Vaselinetjie.
Kallos does an excellent job of building this world, immersing his audience in the culture and depicting realistic characters. Aided by fine performances, most notably his two young co-leads in Brent Vermeulen and Alex van Dyk, Die Stropers has gravity. The boys deliver naturalistic and well-controlled performances, drawing you into their angst and uncertainty. Juliana Venter and Morné Visser further activate the drama, contributing through substantial supporting roles that serve as the backbone for the domestic dysfunction.
“Tell me you’re not wearing my musk roll-on…”
Ethereal undertones are carried forth in the cinematography as we glide from farm landscapes to morning cattle drives. It’s an engaging drama that has finesse but struggles to find its true north, comfortable to simply immerse itself in its artistic and intense world as a misfit disrupts the illusion of harmony. The film moves at a clipped pace becoming fleeting instead of settling into the more dramatic scenes. While this keeps it visually-arresting, there’s very little time to sink into and soak up the dramatic tension. While it builds and builds, chastising its characters who are too afraid to define themselves, the pay off is frayed, continuing its wispy approach to storytelling.
Die Stropers is a beautifully composed and respectable drama that zooms into an ethnic microcosm and moves with style. While it holds your attention, the storytelling waivers and just doesn’t connect the dots or go quite deep enough. Constantly teasing the audience and hinting at eventualities, the subtle approach is appreciated and creates suspense, but remains at a safe distance to the point of becoming anti-climactic.
The bottom line: Poetic