“THE HARVESTERS”— Identity and Sexuality in Afrikaans Culture

“The Harvesters” (“Die Stropers”) Identity and Sexuality in Afrikaans Culture Amos Lassen With his feature writing-directing debut, Greek-South African filmmaker Etienne Kallos takes a look into Afrikaans culture as it grapples with larger social shifts. “The Harvesters” explores identity and sexuality in a provocative and darkly moving way.
The story centers on 15-year-old Janno (Brent Vermeulen), the adopted son of a childless Afrikaans farming couple, Jan and Marie (Morne Visser and Juliana Venter), who are also raising her late sister’s two young daughters. As Janno learns his way around the farm, herding cattle and preparing for the corn harvest, his parents take in another teen boy, 13-year-old Pieter (Alex van Dyk), a troubled drug addict. As he goes through withdrawal, Janno takes him under his wing, introducing him to the farm, the local prayer group and the church boys’ rugby club. But Pieter is far worldlier than Janno, and instantly spots the fact that Janno has a crush on his best friend. Pieter also introduces Janno to the lively nearby black community and reveals that he has been selling his body to local men for cash. Janno finds this shocking, but he also feels a bit of envy.
None of this is obvious. Kallos keeps the film’s tone evocative, focusing on Janno’s emotional rather than physical journey. This means that the film can be somewhat elusive at times, but there’s never a moment when we can’t understand how Janno is feeling: threatened by Pieter’s savvy attitude and excited about the possibility of exploring his sexuality. He is also terrified that Pieter might reveal his secret to his religious parents and friends. The rivalry between the boys adds a sibling rivalry vibe to the film. Michal Englert’s spectacular cinematography captures the and dramatic geography and the internal thoughts of the characters.
Vermeulen gives a belter of a performance, never overplaying Janno’s inner turmoil. Everything he thinks and feels plays across his entire body, especially in the film’s most potent scene as he has a confrontation and connection with Pieter. Even photographed from behind, we know exactly how he reacts. He also develops superb push-and-pull chemistry with van Dyk, a street smart kid who fully understands that religion has brainwashed this family but plays along out of a need to survive.
This is a fascinating story about a society in which being gay is transgressive and, unthinkable. As orphans, these boys are already outsiders, so being sent to “man camp” to learn the community rules only stirs their desires even more. Kallos’ sensitive filmmaking brings the story and themes to life in ways that are both gentle and prickly, challenging the audience to react to a culture in which bigotry is so ingrained that no one talks about it.

Leave a Reply