My Father’s War is a heartfelt story that looks to bring something different to the local movie scene. And while it certainly stands out in a genre filled with romantic comedies, it still falls victim to many of the pitfalls that affect local movies today.
My Father’s War follows the story of a troubled and rebellious 19-year old Dap Smit (Edwin van der Walt) and his problematic relationship with his father, Dawid (Stian Bam), a military veteran who spent many years fighting in the war in Angola, but ended up not being around his son during his formative years as a result. The two seems unable to resolve their tension despite the efforts of wife and mother Karina (Erica Wessels) and as a result all others aspects of their lives begin to fall apart.
In some form of divine intervention, Dap begins to experience the war that his father fought in Angola during his dreams, experiences events that actually happened and details his father had never shared. Providing him the opportunity to fight alongside his father and get to know the troubles that his father went through in the war which led him to being the man he is today.
It’s a fairly conventional, feel good story that has a lot of depth and emotion to it, even though it takes the film quite a while to unravel it all. It builds slowly, but as you invest the time in it, you do begin to feel for its main characters and the relationship between father and son. The story is let down by some rather forced dialog, where some narrative and character building is forced into the dialog rather than flowing naturally between the characters. The film brings in the typical ‘girlfriend’ story, typical of so many Afrikaans films today that in the end adds zero value to the story and also tries to add elements of apartheid and racism into a film where it feels out of place. If they had just focused on the task at hand and not distracted themselves in trying to do too much, it may have resulted in tighter dialog and a better opportunity for the actors to shine.
And the acting has its moments. While the two male leads have some strong scenes, they also both struggle to handle the full emotional weight of the story their characters are going through. They do a solid job though and bring enough to make you feel for the characters, which is more than can be said for some of the film’s minor characters which comes across as incredible stereotypical and almost painful to watch at times.
The film, who also wrote the screenplay definitely tries to be ambitious, however Hollywood it is not. Which is apparent from the moment you enter the very first war sequence and find it lacking in any real tension or feeling of terror which war is supposed to bring. The film tries to hide much of the war going on in the background, by focusing on the characters and while this makes great narrative sense, it removes the power of highlighting the true horrors of war.
The director Craig Gardner relies a lot on still, long camera shots and slow editing, rather than a moving camera and quick edits which are usually used to build action and tension in such scenes. However, while the director could’ve done more with his camera to improve on the tension in the war scenes, the small scale of military battle is more the result of not having a big budget in making them a little bigger and compelling.
Also, how Dap starts off by activity being able to interact through the character at the start of his dreams to simply being a passenger who now all of a sudden is a fully training military man is left unexplained and robs the sequences of some of their power. It’s a minor distraction, but in a fantasy story that tries to feel real, it does lose some of that realism.
One aspect of the film that does shine is its production values. The cinematography by Tom Marais highlights the different time periods of the film well and also provides balances as the story moves between open spaces and intimate, often dark settings with ease. The small details in the art production and costume design also add to creating a believable setting for the movie.
What’s more is that the DVD comes with 2 different audio versions of the film – something which makes a lot of sense in the South African market – one with the original Afrikaans/English dialog and another that is all English for those who might be a little linguistically challenged in the Afrikaans language. There are some other bonus features as well which are informative, if not unremarkable, but at least provide some extra viewing content that extends the life-span of the DVD.
In the end, A Father’s War shows a high level of production which is becoming a real strength of local movies of late and has enough originality and depth to provide something different to the local market. And while it lacks in execution and falls too much in line with convention at times, it has a lot of heart which makes it one of the better local films to watch.
A Father’s War is out now on DVD.