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Movie Review: My Father's War


My Father's War is a drama from writer-director, Craig Gardner, which examines the fractious relationship between David, a war veteran father, and his rebellious son, Dap. We journey with Dap, a young man whose issues stem from feelings of abandonment and a lack of connection, following his father's prolonged involvement in the undeclared Angolan Bush War. From his birth to adolescence the two have forged a history of missed connections. When David reaches out for the last time only to have Dap accuse him of forwarding the agenda of the Apartheid government, he's brought to his knees. It's only after Dap starts dreaming about being at war with his father that he begins to really see the truth.

This Afrikaans-English war drama stars three of South Africa's finest dramatic talents: Edwin van der Walt as Dap, Stian Bam as David and Erica Wessels as Karina. This tight unit makes a strong nucleus for domestic drama to play out at the Smit household. Edwin van der Walt immerses himself in the role of the angst-filled young rebel, whose temperamental attitude and hard-partying lifestyle alienate him from his family. Stian Bam gives David an understated anxiety and a deep-seated depression, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and trying to push past the guilt to overcome his absence. Erica Wessels draws power from Karina's distressed and frustrated state-of-mind, playing a wife and mother, who is only just holding the fort down.

Gardner focusses on universal issues of forgiveness and empathy, and the film could've easily been transferred to any post-war family dynamic. These underlying themes make the film intensely relatable for any family member involved in some sort of conflict. While he's intent of portraying an accurate and earnest domestic drama, Gardner's other intention is to represent the Bush War in Angola. Through Dap's dreams, Gardner is able to inject these war scenes like flashbacks. Much like the framing of Pearl Harbour, this escalates the human drama from intimate to grand as SADF choppers and trucks enter the fray.

My Father's War

"Old dog... there's still fight in the young dog."

While we're given an introspective tour and some Bush War action that helps us comprehend the stress David underwent, the treatment is a little jarring in contrast with the drama, making the marriage of genres a bit unwieldy. While Dap walks a mile in his father's boots and there's certain license in the dream state, the war music is histrionic and conjures up the solemn heroics of World War II. It's a leap of faith to have David's war experiences relayed through Dap's dreams as if he was there, but if you don't fight this spiritual fantasy element, the ride is much more enjoyable. The Bush War has more in common with the guerilla warfare of Vietnam and probably would've been better served by nostalgic music from the age. It certainly would've added another layer for Dap's musical tastes to clash and slowly integrate with those of his father's.

Although far from perfect, My Father's War has its heart in the right place, which is reinforced by earnest performances. While confrontational at first, it becomes surprisingly moving in the third act. The ensemble's conviction make the high concept easier to accept, urged on by our desire to experience the cinematic illusion in all its fullness. The film-makers have largely accomplished what they set out to achieve and the end result is entertaining and emotionally resonant.

The bottom line: Moving