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Movie Review: The Endless River
Written by Spling   
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 08:14


Oliver Hermanus is the writer-director behindĀ Shirley Adams, Skoonheid and now The Endless River. Each of his films have been set in South Africa, have resonated with him personally, been shaped independently and broach social themes that inform international audiences by means of a character portrait.

The Endless River is set in its Afrikaans namesake, Riviersonderend, and grapples with the emotional turmoil that follows two violent incidents. Gilles, a Frenchman, is still trying to acclimatise to a de-sensitised South Africa, where extreme violence is met with unapologetic apathy. He's lost everything he knew to be true and begins a downward spiral, mourning his loss with the bottle and channeling all his rage into finding the culprits.

In his state, he befriends sweet petrol station restaurant waitress, Tiny. The petite, pretty local woman has her own struggles with her "reformed" husband re-emerging after serving a few years in prison. Together, Gilles and Tiny forge an emotional connection that binds their grief as they fumble their way into an uncertain future.

The film opens like a western with broad landscapes and old Hollywood lettering, a stylistic choice that makes you think Hermanus is connecting The Endless River with the Old West. It's an interesting choice, which works for the title and gives a rather intimate small town crime drama, a sweeping context. His decision was probably motivated by the Wild West's sense of lawlessness, where the Sheriff had just as much clout as the outlaws. South Africa's violent setting echoes this sentiment, except the contrast isn't romanticised as we quickly discover in this intense, sometimes brutal film.

"So that's why they call you Tiny."

Nicolas Duvauchelle and Crystal-Donna Roberts, play the roles of Gilles and Tiny respectively. Duvauchelle's character and performance is raw, emotionally-charged and makes a fascinating contrast as a foreigner. His responses are measured against Roberts, whose unfettered performance shows a hardened young woman and jaded by-product of her culture and strained community. The clash of cultures adds tension as their paths converge and they find solace in each other in the one horse town.

Hermanus is an auteur, making the film he wanted to make. As such, it's a major break from conventional "South African" films. He's telling the story in his own time, allowing scenes time to soak up the desired emotion in order to wring out drama. As a portrait, The Endless River is much more concerned about exploring its central characters than generating excitement. The intensity of the emotion is there as a substitute, creating some scenes that are so raw that the word "maudlin" gets ingested by the complex and honest mix of anger and grief on display.

It's a meandering story, much like its title with emotion driving the story. Hermanus keeps us guessing as we try to do the detective work, leaving scenes out to allow our imagination to fill in the blanks. The unconventional and cinematic format will thrill art house audiences wanting something more substantial, while the social crime drama, pacing and challenging scenes will frustrate others. The third act serves as a break from the carefully calibrated "Riviersonderend" tone as the film branches into warmer climbs, which while a welcome relief, undo much of the film's inherent tension.

The Endless River leaves on an ellipsis, which while hopeful may frustrate those wanting some sort of closure. Perhaps this moment serves as a literal end to the river as it comes to the source, which may be complicated by the feeling that the characters have lost some purpose. Either way, it seems less surefooted than that which came before it and amounts to a bit of an anti-climax as the credits roll.

The bottom line: Heartwrenching


Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 June 2016 08:23