The male canary is known for its song, a lyrical and happy sound that can end suddenly in a poisonous environment, hence its use in coal mines of the past to detect danger from toxic fumes. Take us then to South Africa in the 1980's, and begin a story told in Afrikaans that is at times bizarre, occasionally jolly but at its heart historically portentous of evil. The main character of the story is a closeted small town boy learning, after his conscription, how to be true to himself while under the control of a military state just a decade shy of its dissolution.
To be sure, this is not a political screed. There is only one scene overtly connected to the evil of racism. Yet that evil lies constantly beneath the surface as the narrative peels back one prejudice after another in Afrikaner society, using Johan's own life parable contrasted with frequent biblical references and lines from pop tunes as context. It is a tale of opposites clashing even as they move inexorably closer together into historical destiny.
As a student of a broader history, I appreciate small things like one character saying to another. "your grandparents put my grandparents in concentration camps" to the one English-speaking recruit, a reminder of a time a hundred years earlier when South Africa was engaged in a violent civil war. For an audience in the 21st century unfamiliar with South African history, those kinds of comments should send people running to their Wikipedia.
So this funny little movie in an oddly strange yet familiar language can be an opening to more than just an afternoon at the local cinema.