Die Wonderwerker is a masterful Afrikaans film that speaks in any language. It is a sumptuous showcase of South African filmmaking and storytelling at its Oscar-worthy best; a culmination of the top (and astounding) talents that the country has to offer: the vision and passion of director and storymaker Katinka Heyns; the insight and astuteness of storyteller Chris Barnard; the exceptional craftsmanship of cinematographer Koos Roets; the stirring music of composer Ben Ludik; the precision of editor Ronelle Loots; and the cream of South African performers.
Emotionally challenging and evocative, it provokes the imagination and shows that, indeed, extraordinary things can materialise out of ordinary circumstances.
The past history of South Africa, particularly that of white Afrikaners, has always been tainted by an overload of negativity, with important films like Die Wonderwerker, Roepman, and Triomf showing us the true face of what it takes to be South African.
A poignant portrait
With Die Wonderwerker, Heyns and Barnard paint a poignant portrait of a past that shaped the future of South Africa, taking us into the world of the first three decades of the 20th century, and an important episode in the life of journalist, poet, humanitarian and naturalist Eugene Marais.
An interesting aspect of Die Wonderwerker is that the film transcends time and becomes ageless; the story's contemporary relevance and social significance are magnificent, allowing the humanity of being an Afrikaner and South African to surface with dignity and respect. The window into a vibrant past is opened by a woman who takes us into her teenage years, where her "two lives" (that of naïve girl and mature woman) were shaped by Marais' soulful and spiritual mentorship; also showing how this dynamic man changed the world and minds of those who crossed his path.
Heartfelt and exceptional performances
The world and characters vividly burst to life through heartfelt and exceptional performances by the entire cast. David Minnaar is sensational as Marais, perfectly balancing the tormented inner life of how he struggled with his morphine addiction and the debonair suave nature of how the world saw him. Anneke Weidemann delivers a passionate performance as the 17-year-old farm girl Jane Brayshaw, who falls hopelessly in love with Marais, with Erika Wessels equally brilliant as the older and wiser Brayshaw. Elize Cawood is captivating and alluring as the woman whose passion is evoked by Marais, and superbly balances the roles of mother, mentor, guardian and lost soul; with Marius Weyers in top form as her caring but relentless husband. You will equally applaud the performance of Kaz McFadden, who is truly magnificent as the malicious but wounded young man who does not know how to manifest his ardent passion.
Die Wonderwerker delivers on all levels
If ever you wanted to explore the magic of cinema and experience the everlasting impact of storytelling at its most powerful, Die Wonderwerker delivers on all levels; it brilliantly explores the darkness that lurks in the beauty of words, nature and humanity. It also explores the potent passion of love; contrasting the raw nature of first love, the endearing excitement of true love, and the tragedy of scorned love.
Love does indeed make the world turn in Die Wonderwerker and shows how forgiveness and compassion are the glue that keeps our humanness intact.
It is understandable why the film has been a hit at both the Commercial and Nouveau Box Offices in South Africa. We need more films like Die Wonderwerker to remind us that our past is not so different from our present, and that our fears of identity and belonging are manifested in not knowing the wondrous journey that shaped our people and can definitely heal the differences that separate.
Die Wonderwerker is aptly subtitled, which allows the realism of the period and characters to blossom.
As a freelance film and theatre journalist for more than 30 years, published playwright and creator of the independent training initiative The Writing Studio, Daniel Dercksen received the number one spot for most popular lifestyle contributor for 2012, 2014 and 2015, and 2nd spot in 2016 on Bizcommunity.com.
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On recommendation I went to see Die Wonderwerker last night. I was blown away; the true tragedy of this beautiful film may be that it is perceived as an 'Afrikaans' film and people avoid subtitles. A point to be made is that as 'Joe citizen' i had not heard of the film until the word of mouth recommendation. It excels on every level and should be the talk of the country.