SERIOUS Afrikaans cinema has for too long taken a back seat to puerile comedies; however, the release of Die Wonderwerker goes some way towards restoring a balance and, more pertinently, would be welcomed regardless of the current state of local filmmaking.
The focus is on Eugene Marais (Dawid Minnaar), the poet, scientists, naturalist, ethologist, lawyer and champion of Afrikaans; unfortunately, this remarkable, complex man was also an addict whose dependence on morphine and opium proved to be fatal.
Katinka Heyns, the director, and Chris Barnard, the writer, struggled to get finance for their ambitious project but the decade-long delay has not been entirely detrimental to the film; in fact, their determination has been rewarded handsomely and their insistence on using Afrikaans means they have avoided the language problem that undermined Ross Devenish’s The Guest, with Athol Fugard, no less as, Marais, more than 30 years ago.
The acting, photography, costumes and atmosphere combine to lend authenticity to this celebration of a tragic life that came to an abrupt end, one that was almost pre-ordained given the mental and physical strains that condemned Marais to depression and melancholia.
Heyns, Barnard, Minnaar and Elize Cawood are to be commended for finally giving this pivotal figure in SA’s cultural history the tribute he was fated not to enjoy during his short, unhappy yet productive life.