Based on the Jan van Tonder novel with the same title. It tells the story of a 1966 railway community, told through the eyes of an eleven year old boy, called Timus. Timus and his family are trapped within the structural violence caused by the government and the church at the time. An unlikely hero, Joon, often appears to save Timus and these acts of kindness is seen by Timus as miracles. Timus tells the story of Joon and also his own coming of age and loss of innocence and how Joon tries to give a little of that lost innocence back to Timus. Nobody shares this point of view with Timus, Joon however goes on to save this whole community at the end. It is a story with unforgettable characters and it combines the magical world of childhood beautifully with the realistic world we live in.Written by
Salmon de Jager
It is one of the two or three best South African movies I have ever seen.
ROEPMAN (2011): with Paul Loots, John Henry Opperman, Deon Lotz, Rika Sennett, Lida Botha, Desire Gardner, Beate Olwagen, Andrew Thompson, Eddie de Jager, Paul Lückhoff, Altus Theart and Ivan Botha, directed by Paul Eilers. Rating: 9 out of 10. Afrikaans language/English subtitles.
A poignant, affecting and magical South African production about a boy's loss of innocence, "Roepman" is both a quietly powerful political drama and a wondrous fable.
Set in a small railway depot outside Durban, "Roepman" (The Callman) takes us back to 1966 and plunks us into a community of poor white Afrikaners during the days of apartheid. The story revolves around 11-years-old Timus (Paul Loots) and his friend Joon (John Henry Opperman). Joon is the Roepman, who wakes everyone up for work and presents them with their schedules for the day. Being a "Roepman" is "the lowest job a white man can have on the railways", but Joon - who lives with his mute mother, is a loyal employee and a good, kind, gentle man with a real sense of what's right and wrong. Plus, he knows more about the town and its inhabitants than they know about themselves. The sensitive, fragile, imaginative Timus lives with his stern father Abraham Rademan (Deon Lotz) - a staunch, conservative nationalist and an elder at the Church, his compassionate, long suffering mother (Rika Sennett), his brother (Eddie de Jager), his grandma (Lida Botha) and his two sisters, Rykie and Erika (Beate Olwagen, Desire Gardner). Rykie is trying to persuade her father to allow dancing at her upcoming 21st birthday party and Erika is in love with Salmon (Ivan Botha), who adores her and calls her "my spinnekop" (my spider - because she weaves webs around his heart). But Salmon belongs to a different Church, so it looks like a young girl's heart will be cruelly broken by a father's unbending will.
When Timus gets into trouble it is usually Joon who saves him, and Timus sees these timely interventions from his protector as miracles. Underlying tensions in the town start bubbling to the surface and Timus becomes the target of an outwardly macho bully and sexual predator (Andrew Thompson). We also see that one of the white men on the block is demanding sex from his traumatized black housekeeper, that a pregnant girl is about to be shunned by the church and that Abraham wants the family's Zulu maid, Gladys (Kholeka Dakada) to send her toddler back to the township. These different threads come together and culminate in an attempted suicide, the sexual abuse of a child and a moment of Joon-inspired magic on the day Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd is assassinated. The death of Verwoerd marked a time of change, and, some say, the beginning of the end for the National Party.
Despite a touch of magical realism, "Roepman" is set in a dark time of harsh, political repression and shines a light on apartheid. It is not a politically charged film, but it certainly offers a telling look into aspects of the Afrikaner culture, its obsession with religion, and the horror of apartheid.
The moving, funny, sad, thoughtful "Roepman" is beautifully acted (and young Loots is a real find) and the period details are superb; I felt as if I had been transported back through the past and deposited into scenes from my childhood. Sadly, I doubt this excellent film will ever become available outside of South Africa, but if anyone here ever gets the chance to see it, grab that chance with both hands. The English subtitles do not capture the full flavor of the Afrikaans language and the film works better if you understand "die taal" (the language), but they are good enough. I found this film - based on the book by Jan van Tonder, a vivid, powerful, strangely nostalgic and poignant experience and highly recommend it. It is one of the best two or three South African movies I have ever seen.
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