One-liner: While lightweight and thinly scripted, this plucky, quirky, stellar and visually-captivating comedy adaptation remains entertaining, fun and upbeat.
Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor (Hans Crosses the Rubicon) is based on the novel by Rudie van Rensburg about a 90-year-old retirement home resident who leads an uprising. ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ refers to Caesar’s crossing of a river that ultimately led to him becoming dictator over Rome for life. Generally used when “going beyond the point of no return”, this describes the stormy power struggle between Hans and Matron van Dussen at a repressive old age home.
Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor is written and directed by Corne van Rooyen, the accomplished South African filmmaker behind Vaselinetjie, Sy Klink Soos Lente and Hollywood in My Huis. While the haunting adaptation of Vaselinetjie showcased the writer-director’s ability when it comes to drama, he’s built his film career on comedies with a twist of romance.
His latest adaptation leans into comedy with a twist of drama as he relays the misadventures of a spritely old man named Hans. Young-at-heart and eager to do life on his own terms, he’s not subscribed to the idea of settling into the final chapter, or a retirement home. After a wayward escape to Namibia, Hans returns home only to strike a deal with his daughter, Karla, to give the retirement home a fair trial over a year. It’s during this time that the rebel-with-a-cause finds enough willing countrymen and groundswell to launch a full-fledged insurrection.
Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor is a comical, sweet and tongue-in-cheek tale that aims for entertainment and fun. Adopting similar aspirations, the film adaptation captures this zest for life through its game cast. Starring the iconic Pierre van Pletzen as Hans, there’s a Coen brothers upbeat quirk to the casting, which extends to Tobie Cronje, Sandra Prinsloo, June van Merch, JP Moller, Diaan Lawrenson and Nicola Hanekom. Each playing comic supporting roles to van Pletzen, the emphasis is on the story’s lightweight, spirited and whimsical tone. This animated treatment keeps things light and frothy but also unfortunately underutilises the supporting talent, specifically Sandra Prinsloo and June van Merch.
“Consider this your final-final warning, Hans.”
Taking on the lead role, van Pletzen has the charm and pluck to make Hans lovable. Tobie Cronje backs him up in a vertiable co-lead role as the hysterical Vasie, much like how Niles is to Frasier. Funny without having to try, the local screen legend seemed like the perfect fit for the lead role after his brilliant reading of the novel on RSG. Somehow, the character actor is even more well-suited to the adorable, lanky and mischievous Vasie. There to redouble van Pletzen’s twinkle-eyed efforts, the two make a playful and wonderful buddy co-lead pairing, doing enough to justify a spin-off road trip… think Grumpy Old Men meets Mississippi Grind.
This upbeat spirit is infectious as the cast seize the opportunity to poke fun at themselves and indulge in their light-hearted roles and sillier moments. The novel carries a similar pulpy entertainment value, prizing style over substance, which is at play in Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor. Unfortunately, as accurate as the adaptation may be, the thin scripting leaves the story scattershot and characters underdeveloped. Moving at a good pace, luckily the lightweight handling isn’t a make-or-break factor, able to coast on the strength of its spirited cast, comical scenarios, stylistic quirk and technical savvy.
Sound is a major component of a film’s finesse and immersive quality. Thankfully solid sound design and a curious score enhance the storytelling and raise the bar for the local production. Underlining the film’s whimsical tone, the inventive and spooky score adds to the fun, good-natured feel and mirrors the production design as well as yellow and turquoise colour palette. The cinematography is just as thoughtful and continues this trajectory as the little movie with a big heart outperforms itself on a number of levels.
As happy-go-lucky as things are in an age when this kind of escapist fare is most welcome, Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor verges on twee, undermining the depth of emotional connection and important themes. The comedy aims for the sentimental quirk of Wes Anderson mixed with the disarming fun and wanderlust of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Yet, as spirited as its influences are, including a poster inspired by Pride, the matron’s affected styling and one note character is indicative of the film’s broader issues. Not giving van Dussen a life beyond the confines of the retirement home, the Nurse Ratched type’s over-the-top hairdo, icy disposition and single glove make her more of a flamboyant Roald Dahl villain.
Much like the novel, the film serves as a conversation-starter to draw attention to a serious problem affecting the vulnerable at mismanaged or inferior care facilities. Unfortunately, as strong as its independent streak is, the lightweight take softens the spotlight on the draconian rules and mistreatment of the elderly at such homes. Adding a twist of fantasy and wish fulfilment enhances the family entertainment factor but further scatters a story in search of substance. While a fun and lovable character portrait, Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor covers a multitude of story ideas but doesn’t have enough focus to do justice to its central thread. While there are a few obstacles, none of them seem insurmountable and all of them seem straightforward and inevitable.
Not following through on ideas or seeing the world as interconnected, there are some missing puzzle pieces that do make it seem contrived to gimmicky. From a whirlwind Windhoek trip to a breakaway situational comedy scenario with an airport official, Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor’s storytelling does “one, two, skip a few” at times but largely gets away with it thanks to its charm, style and independent spirit. While there’s little subtext to this visually-enticing comic adaptation, it’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed fervor is enough to win audiences over. Light-hearted enough to amuse and lightweight enough to gloss over, Hans Steek die Rubicon Oor is ultimately an entertaining, fun and sweet treat.
The bottom line: Fun