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Movie Review: Ballade vir 'n Enkeling

Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is an Afrikaans mystery drama based on the '80s television series of the same name. After acclaimed author, Jacques Rynhard, goes missing, an aspiring journalist attempts to find out what became of him. As our intrepid journalist sets out on a mission to get dirt on the talented man, she uncovers a series of stories from those close to Rynhard as flashbacks rise to the surface.

The film adaptation is contemporary, maintaining aspects from the original series and moving the 20 year gap to have Rynhard's childhood relayed from the '90s. This is a sprawling epic, deftly balancing the past and present as we learn of a talented author's troubled and character-building story.

Quentin Krog brings his acting experience to the fore as director on Ballade vir 'n Enkeling, getting his cast to deliver their best. While DonnaLee Roberts, Christia Visser, Miles Petzer and Edwin van der Walt shine the brightest, the entire ensemble are mostly convincing with one or two perceived lapses. The unevenness isn't enough to derail the film and can be ascribed to the screenplay's jittery third act.

DonnaLee Roberts is sleek, beautiful and determined as Carina Human. Christia Visser has an enigmatic quality as wild child, Lena. Miles Petzer embodies Gert with relentless menace, while Edwin van der Walt's gritty and soulful performance as young Jacques is quietly powerful. Armand Aucamp's likable charisma and good looks have their place, while Cindy Swanepoel's boisterous and spirited fun is infectious.

"I really thought you would've chosen Piña coladas."

After a steady build-up, a number of reveals betray the characters, their motivations and ultimately the audience as a series of contrivances twist-and-turn the story into melodrama. It is based on a TV series and this strange and almost vapid departure opens up more questions than it answers.

Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is largely redeemed by its mesmerising cinematography from Tom Marais. The sense of movement and space adds to the sprawling feel across generations. The poetic quality to the mystery is ever-present and while perhaps there are one or two over-wrought moments, every frame is well thought out and holds artistic merit.

This is carried through in the production values, opting for realistic locations and accurate settings that translate into beautiful backdrops. Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is probably not as suspenseful as it should have been, but manages to lure us in with its atmosphere of regret and wistful romance.

While intriguing, absorbing and at times quite immersive, the film runs too long, almost reinventing itself at one point with a bullying subplot that could have been an entirely different spin-off movie. There are brilliant moments where performance, editing, story and cinematography lace together quite majestically. Yet, the film undermines these with some tinny, confusing story interchanges.

While flawed, Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is still an intriguing, moving and beautifully composed South African mystery drama. Quentin Krog manages to unearth some moving and powerful moments, which are carried forth by Tom Marais's cinematography and some key performances. It's a curious and grand dust land tale, swathed in great beauty, threatened by rusty cogs and powered home by angst-riddled passion.

The bottom line: Artful