WILDLY uneven, Afrikaans rom-com Vrou Soek Boer veers madly between clichéd storyline and moments of brutal honesty for an odd effect.
Starring Lika Berning and Nico Panagio in the title roles, this has less to do with the reality TV show titled Boer Soek ’n Vrou and more with the much vaunted and much maligned psychological divide between Joburg’s fast-paced, egotistical city life and the platteland’s slower, more communal aspect.
Berning is Mareike Viljoen, an ex-banker turned baker who relocates to the slower pace of Wakkerstroom. She is trying to shake up her life, which is not going the way she wants. Worn down by her mother’s blatant “where are my grandchildren” hints, she gives in to her new mentor’s efforts to set her up on a date with a farmer.
Make that several dates, with several farmers, with some hilarious results, and some bor- ing. The film is more rom than com, romanticising the “ons is almal hier om jou te help” aspect of Afrikaners living in a plattelandse dorpie. The comedy is not slapstick, but mostly low-key and natural.
Marga van Rooy pops up as tannie Bettie, the woman teaching Mareike to bake and setting her up on all the dates. This is a frustrat- ing character – she seems to be an independent thinker, but then she insists that the only way Mareike will be happy is by finding happiness through someone else.
Of course, this being a movie, Mareike is ignoring the farmer right in front of her, Nico Panagio’s Mr Handsome, Neil Steenkamp. Another frustrating character – back on the farm from a successful Joburg life, Neil is so caught up in making sure his family is taken care of that he is not dealing very well emotionally with the impending death of his father.
Singer Bok van Blerk pops up as Mareike’s potential Mr Right. Brutally honest and seeking adventure by travelling the world, Stander de Waal (Van Blerk) is blatantly positioned as a potential love interest for Mareike, painted as diametrically the opposite of Neil in every way. But the interaction between Neil and Stander hints – especially in a confrontational scene – at a complicated friend- ship that’s faltered to their mutual disappointment because of pride, family and issues beyond their control. The storyline is clichéd and conservative in every way possible – going on the theory that a girl will only find fulfilment through marrying the perfect man.
It tries to say that love can find you in the weirdest places – a really sweet sentiment – that can lead to fun films. It is very respectful of Afrikaner farm life, but when people like Reza de Wet created stage plays like Op Dees Aarde then this just comes across as disingenously saccharine rather than salt of the earth.
Then again, it is supposed to be an exercise in escapism and if Hollywood can give us the American Dream, then here is the plattelandse equivalent.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Vrou Soek Boer