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Movie Review: Faan se Trein


Faan se Trein is an adaptation of a popular Afrikaans stage production that has been running for almost 40 years. The film takes place in a small Karoo town, where a mentally-challenged man becomes the centre of much taunting and ridicule. After a number of violent and inappropriate outbursts, he divides the community between those wanting to give him another chance and those wanting him to be taken away. Faan se Trein shares a number of elements with Roepman, making it a worthy companion piece.

Koos Roets, co-director of The Angel, the Bicycle and the Chinaman's Finger, as well as cinematographer on Die Wonderwerker and Paljas has been at the helm of this project from development to wrap. Having already worked with Katinka Heyns on two acclaimed Afrikaans feature film dramas, he was perfectly poised to bring the '50s period piece drama, Faan se Trein, from stage to screen.

Roets has assembled one of the finest dramatic casts South Africa has to offer to bring this haunting, character-driven story to screen. Faan se Trein benefits tremendously from the ensemble's collection of solid performances, adding weight to the drama and resuscitating a small community, who could exist beyond the celluloid. While Roets anchors the story with a sense of space and time, the cast add roots to the drama, bolstering the film's integrity.

Screen veteran, Marius Weyers is just one coach on a bill that includes a number of rising stars and established actors. Prolific actor and director, Willie Esterhuizen, delivers a sharp performance as the film's engine and titular simpleton, Faan. He manages to walk the line between man and child, threatening to overbalance with a strange concoction of sexuality and pent-up frustration, yet keeping the character in check with an underlying innocence. If the film is like a train pulling into and leaving a station, Faan is also the ticking time bomb on-board, keeping the drama taut and ready to explode at any moment.

Deon Lotz is fast becoming a household name with a string of consistently solid performances in a number of local productions including: SkoonheidRoepmanVerraaiersMusiek vir die Agtergrond as well as Sleeper's Wake. He adds yet another strong performance to his winning streak as the town's mayor and resident doctor, who is struggling under the weight of a drug addiction. He could be the lead in a spin-off drama and portrays one of the film's more sympathetic characters.

"Faan, jy kry net een kans 'n jaar in my dorp..."

Nicola Hanekom plays opposite Lotz, as his wife Beatrice, a character whose ice queen looks, magpie cunning and manipulative spirit make her easy on the eye and devilishly entertaining. As a two-faced temptress and usurper, she's scorned by the townsfolk and audience, making Hanekom a villain you love to watch and hate. Anel Alexander is almost unrecognizable when you compare the dowdy Truia in Faan se Trein with her lead role in Semi-soet. Her performance is unflinching and strong-willed, playing the only character who seems to be immune to Faan's tempestuous outbursts.

Cobus Roussouw deserves a special mention for his role as Faan's father and companion, who adds much heart to the film as a weary, yet loving old man, whose traditional thinking, slow-to-anger spirit and plucky reserve make him one of the film's most lovable characters. He and Faan share some of the film's most understated and tender moments as father and son.

Faan se Trein makes for riveting drama with a full spectrum of humanity in all its inadequacies. It's fascinating in the details, from the themes of old technology replacing new, to the wonderful array of props and costumes from the era. These elements add to the authenticity and represent the care with which this Afrikaans drama has been made. It's a beautiful film, from the sweeping vistas of the Karoo to the sincere performances.

While the film adaptation has broken free from the shackles of the stage with its varied sets and depth of field, the pacing is decidedly old world and the story seems a little scatter-shot. While the drama holds weight, the film chugs along like a series of character portraits. As such, the characters and performances propel the story, relying on some last minute musings from the doctor to provide the train of thought the film needed all along.

All in all, Faan se Trein is a layered period piece drama that wrestles with a number of timeless themes relating to the human condition. Great characters and strong performances drive this film, and the production values elevate it. The traditional pacing may be a little more mini-series than feature film, but the story's unpredictable nature and vivid re-imagining, turn a dusty Karoo village into a minefield of emotion.

The bottom line: Fascinating