So I watched My Father’s War…
I was I was really looking forward to seeing this film for quite some time. I’d been made aware of it on social media and somehow managed to wrangle an invite to the press screening. I have to say that I love the place where South African cinema is heading; not only are the stories becoming more diverse but the quality with which the stories are presented has increased exponentially. I can’t wait to see what heights the industry next hits.
Okay, basic plot: Dap (Edwin van der Walt) is a teen whose relationship with his father, Dawid (Stian Bam), is tumultuous to say the least. Dap harbours anger against his father for his many years spent abroad – in the military – during the South African border war. Dawid finds it increasingly more difficult to connect with his son and he is all but ready to give up. Dap is ready to give up on his father too but has a change of heart when – through a series of dreams – he is transported to the frontlines of the South African Border War. Dap now has to fight alongside his father and gets to see a side of the man he had never known. As Dap gains insight into his father’s character, his feelings towards him soften but it may be too little too late to fix their damaged relationship.
The best thing about this film has to be the acting of its two leads – Edwin van der Walt and Stian Bam. Individually the two are captivating but it’s in their scenes together that the true magic lies. The pair perfectly capture the intensity and white-hot rage that comes with strained familial relationships. There’s a very organic nature to the way the two interacted and an undeniable chemistry between the two that shines through even in moments where their characters are at each other’s throat. This is the second film I’ve seen van der Walt in and I’m convinced that he’s going to be the next big thing in South African cinema. There’s an aura of charisma and ease in his acting that make him a delight to watch.
This film also has an extremely high production value. The scenes that feature Dap timetravelling to the South African Border War are beautifully crafted and filmed. Peter Lamberti – who served as producer on this film – was a member of the SANDF during the war and gave input into the creation of these war scenes and it’s clear that his input made all the difference. The scenes feel incredibly real and are filled with extensive detail to create vivid, adrenaline pumping sequences. Some of my favourite moments of the film came from these scenes and I love the big-budget feel that they had.
While the majority of this film is well-crafted and written with real purpose and conviction, it isn’t a perfect film. The point of Dap’s dreams is to give insight into his father and pave the way for reconciliation between the two; but the dreams completely take over the role of repairing their relationship. This makes the resolution feel hollow because neither of the characters have to actively work towards it. Dap and his father are well-written characters with complexity and multiple layers which works well in setting up the conflict but proved to be detrimental in its resolution. Their inevitable coming together feels manufactured and lacking true substance because the many reasons given as to why the two dislike each other are glossed over with a solution that neither had any input in creating.
Another problem this film has is a common problem in local films – the journey to the ends feels muddled and lacking focus. I think local film need to become more streamlined and directors more discerning about what elements of the script make the final cut. Subplots are important as is character development but we don’t need to see every little moment to appreciate that it happened. Being more selective with what subplots to include, will not only help the film’s runtime and pacing but also facilitate movies that feel more concise.
Overall, My Father’s War is a truly enjoyable film. It has two wonderful leads at its helm, an emotive, purposeful script and action sequences that are crafted with care and authenticity. It’s worth seeing 8/10