The temperate and evocative Afrikaans masterwork Verraaiers (Traitors) takes a nostalgic journey into the past that shaped the future of South Africa. Film is a window through which we can experience the world and, with Verraaiers, the wistful reminiscence instils a pride of who we are as South Africans, and unloads the baggage of our history.
Although the story is focused on the tragic fate of Boer traitors during the Anglo-Boer War, it's an anthem for freedom fighters today and shows clearly that the conflicts and confrontations that divide families, society and a nation are reflections of historic wars and battles that formed the cornerstones and foundations of the New South Africa.
It is not always possible to understand fully the motivations for taking drastic action to embrace peace during a time of war instead of taking up arms.
How family rules the heart
Verraaiers shows how family rules the heart and allows us to journey into the intimate world of decorated Kommandant Jacobus van Aswegen, a loving father and husband and respected Boer officer, who decides to go home to protect his wife and family instead of further participation in the war after hearing that the enemy (the British) are planning a "scorched earth" policy. This decision leads to he and his sons being tried for high treason and, if found guilty, the death sentence.
In Verraaiers it is all about people from different walks of life who are thrown into a melting pot of patriotism and have to come to terms with their humanity, no matter what their respective objectives are.
Director Paul Eilers, who directed the Afrikaans masterwork Roepman, reunites with screenwriter Sallas de Jager (who co-wrote the screenplay of Roepman) to bring us another great South African film that is honest in its telling. Cinematographer Tom Marais sumptuously captures the world and period of the story, with outstanding production design by Waldemar Coetsee, offering a spectacular visual feast that never imposes.
Eilers draws top-notch performances from his cast: Gys De Villiers delivers a sturdy and heartfelt portrayal of Kommandant van Aswegen, and Vilje Maritz is sensational as his son. They are well supported by Andrew Thompson, Neil-Bennett Grib and Jacques Bessenger as the other Boer prisoners, with Rika Sennett, Beàte Olwagen and Hannah Borthwick equally luminous as the women who have to face their fate.
Altus Theart makes a mean bully, Johan Baird is in top form as the slimy Boer who becomes a traitor to his own people, Stian Bam delivers a passionate performance as the heroic and valiant Boer messenger, and Albert Maritz instils a passion as Care-Jan van Aswegen.
Deon Lotz is superb as General Koos de la Rey, with an equally impressive Morné du Toit as General Jan Smuts, André Roothman as Kommandant Douthwaite, Nic de Jager as General Liebenberg, and Garth Breytenbach as Lieutenant Huddleston.
Verraaiers is not only an emotional portrayal of men accused of treason, but also a moving telling of the betrayal between friends and comrades. Betrayal can mean the end of reason and lead to ultimate sacrifices, but in Verraaiers it signifies the birth of a new generation that confronts tragic events that shaped a hopeful future.
Verraaiers ultimately reveals that hope lies in the shadow of doubt and misunderstanding, and that once this veil has been lifted a new-found hope will reward the redeemed and shine like a beacon to those who are lost and searching for their true heritage and identity.
If you are looking for a wholesome cinematic experience that showcases the best talent that South Africa has to offer, make sure to see Verraaiers - it is a story that deserves to be heard and a film well worth seeing.
Behind the scenes
"Over the last century a lot has being written and said about the Anglo-Boer War and everything that happened during and around this horrible war. There was those was guessed, those who blamed and often those who lied, " said director Paul Eilers. "The stories of the so-called 'traitors', 'joiners' and 'hensoppers'(deserters) was mostly forgotten out of shame. There were, however, those who had these titles bestowed upon them unreasonably and in some cases grossly unfairly. It is against this background that the film Verraaiers is set .I believe that Verraaiers (for too long a hidden story) will make a huge impact. Not only in South Africa, but all over the world."
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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