Tornado and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer is a film by Regardt van der Bergh, who directed Hansie and Faith Like Potatoes. If you’ve seen either of these movies, you will soon realise that this movie also embodies a rich true story with spiritual themes relating to Christianity. Tornado is a beautiful blue blood white Arabian horse with a predisposition for self-mutilation, and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer is a wise man named “Burrie”, who comes across like a hybrid of Jack Palance from City Slickers and Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman from Dances with Wolves. However, Tornado and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer is not about these fascinating conceptions. This is the story of Pierre, a tormented and emotional young athlete, whose rheumatism and turmoil has led him to Noenieput in an attempt to rehabilitate Tornado. The film stars newcomer Quentin Krog as Pierre, the experienced Danny Keogh as Barrie with a film debut for Lean van der Bergh as Meretha.
Tornado is essentially about brokenness and healing. Pierre’s journey is based on the true story of Pierre van Rooyen, who met horse whisperer and missionary Barrie Burger in 2003. This inspiring account is brought to life with realistic performances that bring this rich story closer to home. Regardt van der Bergh has a great eye for aesthetic photographic quality and the audience witnesses this time and time again as the screen becomes a canvas for mirages from the Groen Kalahari. The shots add another dimension to the film, balancing the tapestry between the realm of commercial and art house. Terrence Malick would be proud to call some of this footage his own, and van der Bergh contrasts the beauty of the desert landscape with the darkness in Pierre and Tornado. Sometimes this affinity draws too much attention to itself, but helps to counterbalance the shroud of negativity in the drama. The performances are competent, however the camera puts the audience at a arm’s length. Close-ups are rare and this distances the audience from the characters, making the journey seem less intimate and slightly removed.
The story and characters are set up with a few scattered cliches and at times it feels like a Western melodrama. Luckily these conventions are intermittent and Tornado and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer is better when it’s forced to lean on its true story. Pierre van Rooyen’s story of healing deserved to be made into a film as much as Faith Like Potatoes, and its good to see a South African drama grappling with personal themes of redemption rather than falling back on the void of crime or Apartheid. Regardt van der Bergh showcases his directorial versatility, demonstrating story integrity and consistency in his growing collection of meaningful films. Tornado and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer is told from a Christian perspective: while the themes may be geared towards Christianity, it never feels like van der Bergh is manipulating the viewer. The film has its flaws, but the heart of the story and the steady production values add enough quality to make the overall experience worthwhile.
The bottom line: Enriching.