Afrikaans films are, as a rule, generally a no-no. This is not because they are bad movies, but rather because they are just not cool. This was illustrated when one was forced to endure hours of watching and re-watching Afrikaans movies in film study at school. Even Paljas, a very good film by any standard, was ruined by the attitude towards subtitles and painfully analytical discussions afterwards. This is an attitude that needs to be expelled, very quickly, because there is some serious talent knocking down the stigma wall.
Verraaiers is written and produced by Sallas de Jager and is heavily influenced by the book Boereverraaiers by Albert Blake. Boereverraaiers is an account of the suffering endured by the Theunissen family during the second Anglo-Boer war in the early 1900s. The powerfully emotional story is brought to life by director Paul Ehlers who is meticulous in the depiction of historical correctness and the result is an absolute bull’s-eye.
Jan van Aswegen, brilliantly played by Gys de Villiers, is a Boer commando who must face the reality that the war against the British is all but over and that carrying on the futile fight will only see his farm burnt to the ground and his family starving in a concentration camp. This follows a brutal “scorched earth” tactic employed by British general Kitchener in order to bring the tactically superior Boers to their knees by destroying their families and livelihood. Van Aswegen and his sons decide to return home and protect his farm and family, in doing so abandoning the Boer commandos under his command. News of many men doing the same reaches the ears of those in command and steps are taken to make an example of those men now branded as “verraaiers” (that’s “traitors” if you haven’t worked it out yet).
A court-martial system is put in place and before long, Van Aswegen and his sons are put before a tribunal bent on dishing out the death sentence for the so-called crimes against the fatherland. Van Aswegen, along with the others, is found guilty and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Shortly before the execution is set to take place, a letter is sent by general De la Rey (Deon Lotz) pardoning the guilty parties, but will the letter reach its destination in time?
The acting, particularly by De Villiers and Lotz, is exceptional and adds to the extreme emotions that this film wrenches from the audience. The riveting story is made so much more distressing by the fact that countrymen would commit such atrocities against one another, illustrating the immense pressure imposed by the British invasion. The authenticity of the costumes and surroundings is a testament to the hard work put into making this film the success that it is.
Proudly South African and proudly Afrikaans, this is a movie that will be enjoyed by all and more than likely bring a lump to the throat. Also, the easy-to-follow English subtitles make it suitable for those not versed in die taal. Well worth a watch.
Verraaiers is currently showing at cinemas nationwide.