The filthy scourge of paedophilia has crossed our awareness so frequently and in so much detail in fiction and fact, history and the news, at times lascivious, at times clinical, that it has become humdrum. The film version of Dis ek, Anna (It’s me, Anna) is a fresh and earnest piece of work, bruised by predictability, but enhanced with a crafted texture that boasts moments of sheer directorial poetry.
In the aftermath of years of abuse by her step-father, the central eponymous character played by Charlene Brouwer embraces a narrative which is almost numbingly predictable, from the first still and the way in which a cut-price Barbie doll in a roadside pitstop makes Anna distressingly mesmerised, until the court’s final decision.
But more than the tale of a young girl molested and raped repeatedly by an older man, it is one that sears the underbelly of bullying: casting into relief how a so-believed perfect child becomes hated by her peers, but also, how the very idea of sex is portrayed as poisonous from within a set of Calvinist values, specific to a particular culture.
While drawing from South Africa’s top echelon theatrical performers in Afrikaans, including Marius Weyers, Nicola Hanekom and Elize Cawood in key roles, it features some absolutely astonishing cameos, by the likes of Ilse Klink, Dawid Minnaar and Elton Landrew. While they’re focused on for maybe 12 minutes throughout the whole film, they lend the piece such a sense of local colour and authenticity, they are haunting and pivotal to the tale.
Dis ek, Anna, enfolds a tale of abuse within a tale of abuse in a way that feels almost too neat, wrapping a goodly dose of advocacy in its folds: it’s tied together with the presence of Weyers as an elderly investigating officer with a mission, and there are aspects of the film that might evoke the British crime miniseries Trial and Retribution, from the 1990s, directed in part by Aisling Walsh, in terms of the different unfolding compartments of the tale. Indeed, there are many threads to the work, most of which are resolved and are interwoven around South Africanisms and other truisms, but in all of these occasionally stumbling ways, it yields a memorable punch.
And while the film is not flawless as a production, there are elements to it, which enable it to sing: the unfathomable horror of child rape and how on earth a community deals with the perpetrator of such a deed is held up in the light of Anna’s tale; the dovetailing of an Afrikaans-speaking, church-going level of blatant hypocrisy with the rawness of the relaying of a similar tale of woe from within an informal settlement are placed on a kind of moral scale which provokes thought.
While some of the lines articulated are not only silly and disrespectful to the bones of the story – and the advocate’s blonde assistant’s facial expressions lend a bizarre interpretative foolishness to the court case, and while there’s a pervading pallor in tone and personality of most of the white cast – the coloured and black cast members inject an unequivocal sense of real life into the piece – there’s an overriding value in this film which makes these errors forgivable and the piece, while slightly too long and in several respects begging for more succinct editing, is engaging.
- Dis Ek, Annais directed by Sara Blecher and performed by Hykie Berg, Izel Bezuidenhout, Charlene Brouwer, Elize Cawood, Nicola Hanekom, Ilze Klink, Elton Landrew, Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Morné Visser, Drikus Volschenk and Marius Weyers. It is produced by Niel van Deventer, Tascha van der Westhuizen and Charlene Brouwer and written by Tertius Kapp, based on the novels Dis ek, Anna and Die staat teen Anna Bruwer by Anchien Troskie and was designed by Jonathan Kovel (photography), Chris Joubert (production), Nicholas Costaras (editor), Nerine Pienaar (costumes), Schalk Joubert (music) and Belinda Kruger (casting). Release date: October 23 2015.