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Abraham
Genre Drama
 
Review:

Abraham is a character study embedded in a confession from acclaimed South African director, Jans Rautenbach, who returns to film after more than 30 years. Set in 1980s Kannaland near Oudtshoorn, we're introduced to Abraham, an impoverished artist whose energy and creativity are channeled into his sculptures, which he foists upon a local farmer.

Naive, exuberant and using his trademark dance to attract the attention of would-be buyers, he finds a soft spot with "Oubie", who reluctantly becomes his number one customer. Abraham Soetlander is played by JC Mouton, whose immersive and free-spirited performance drives the drama. He's supporting his wife, played naturally, vividly and quite violently by Chantel Phillipus, whose alcoholism and personal demons keep their marriage on edge, while their daughter bears the brunt of the dysfunction.

Abraham is slow-moving and the storytelling seems scattershot at first. We're essentially dealing with a niche character study about an artist, his difficult domestic situation and the rags-to-riches potential of relocating his unique artistic ability to Cape Town.

However, it's couched in the narration of a man, whose guilt casts a looming shadow over this melancholic story. Instead of getting straight into the nitty-gritty drama, we take the long way round.

The honest, simple and almost poetic portrayal is refreshing, but the context, setting and characters take such a long time to paint into the picture that you're constantly asking why? The introduction is lengthy with scenes that seem open-ended and it only really feels like Rautenbach gets to the heart of the story in the third act.

The landscapes, culture and people of Kannaland give Abraham a rich backdrop for the drama. The 1980s race relations are curious, the religious perspective is fascinating and the songs anchor the undercurrent of heritage and folklore.

The film has texture and if it were simply art, it could be lauded for its full performances, authentic atmosphere, melancholic tone, social insights and rich cross-section of life. While set apart in this regard, it lacks focus, struggles to find meaning, moves slowly and appears scattershot... moving from one loosely sketched scene to another without a trail of crumbs, or a central character to guide us.

This makes Abraham visually intriguing and promising, but dull in terms of entertainment value. By the time we're given an in and things become emotionally powerful, we're watching from a cold distance and the affects are diminished by our surprising indifference.

This drama feels lopsided with the narrator possibly soaking up more of the story than required. The device seems necessary to broaden the audience, but counter-productive in terms of presenting a story that should've been much more intimate.

The bottom line: Frayed

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