Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Harvesters: NZIFF Review

The Harvesters: NZIFF Review

The Cain and Abel of the bucolic world, South African drama The Harvesters gets its power more from what's not said, than what is.

Writer / director Etienne Kallos' modern day parable concerns itself with teenage Janno, who as the film starts is stalking through the fields herding cattle while his mother prays for strength for him, and for his seed.

As the farming life routines become evident, Janno's place in it all seems secure, but not fully fortified. As is his connection to the other farming boys around - he's isolated, but also part of what goes on.
The Harvesters: NZIFF Review

However, into this religiously devout family, comes Pieter, a halfway house boy with a troubled past, a sullen temperament and an innate ability to rock them to their core. Tensions arise between the mother and the father of the embattled ranch (the death of farmers all around is continually hinted at) as she wants to save him and he wants him gone.

But it's Janno for whom the bell tolls in The Harvesters, as his foundations look like they could be gradually, yet permanently, eroded.

The Harvesters is an intriguing look at trauma, the psychology of "brothers" and male role models, and the perils faced within family units.

In many ways, it feels like a horror, particularly with its very last shot, but Kallos' desire to pull away from these trappings and leave the interpretations to the viewer shows how well the whole thing is orchestrated.

Last reel reveals place earlier interactions in different defiant lights, and are unguessable early on.

Bernt Vermeulen delivers a vulnerable turn as Janno, uncertainty etched on his innocent face throughout, and a masterfully underplayed turn helps greatly.
Equally, Alex van Dyk's cold Pieter swings wonderfully between lost boy damaged in the past to master manipulator fuelled by self-survival. There's much to dissect and engage in these two leads and much to luxuriate in in Kallos' cruelly different take on the farming world.

Scathing resentments simmer all around in all the protagonists - from the damaged Pieter apparently looking for retribution to the farmer father, his family unit discombobulated by threats from all sides.

The Harvesters is psychological terror from all angles, but hidden in plain sight. It's a stark, sparing portrait of farming life in post Apartheid South Africa, and it's laden with menace. But Kallos wisely never overplays that angle, meaning The Harvesters plays first and foremost as a compelling human drama, a cautionary tale about male insecurities that's riveting from beginning to end.

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