Film Review – Die Wonderwerker
Director: Katinka Heyns
Screenplay: Chris Barnard.
Cast: Marius Weyers, Dawid Minnaar, Cobus Roussouw, Elize Cawood, Sandra Kotze, Anneke Weidman, Kaz McFadden
Rating:****** (Out of 10)
Venue: Ster Kinekor Maerua Mall, Cine 1
After a ten-year silence since her last film, Katinka Heyns, South Africa’s classic pied piper brings us yet another classic, Die Wonderwerker (The Wonder Worker), a film that tells the tale about an encounter between Afrikaans poet and naturalist Eugene Marais (Minnaar) and the Van Rooyen family on their farm in Rietfontein. After spending two years in the veld studying baboons and ants, he arrives on the farm in search of water. Marais is a doctor, he is good with nature and animals and he is addicted to morphine.
He arrives on the Van Rooyen farm whilst suffering from malaria, and ends up staying longer than he is supposed to and falls in love with the family’s adopted daughter, the young and inquisitive Jane Brayshaw (Weideman). Things become complicated when the farmer’s wife Maria, who has been the devoted farm wife all her life, also falls in love with the wonder worker.
Marais is a man trying to fight his demons. His dream was to become a practising doctor but he failed to do so. In his quest to ease the pain he turns to morphine. At first he lies to Maria who nurses him back to life, that the morphine is medicine to cure his malaria but she is not convinced and one afternoon while Marais is out, she goes through his things and takes the tablets, and has them examined by a pharmacist who confirms her suspicions.
She goes back home only to be greeted by Jane’s frantic pleas for help because Marais’ ‘malaria’ is back. Unbeknown to her he is having withdrawal symptoms. Maria decides to use the situation to her advantage and tells a shaking Marais that she can help him, but only if they strike a deal. She will give him some of the morphine if only she administers the drug to him, and that she will only give him the drug when he really needs it and according to her dosage. Marais agrees in desperation and Maria becomes his enabler.
Cawood’s character is naïve and bitter. She becomes the enabler in the hope that Marais will fall in love with her. She becomes stingy with the drugs hoping that the less he takes the less he will need it and together they will leave the farm. However Marais has other plans and starts taking opium from his Indian friend, businessman Ebrahim Rabat. The story gets even more complicated when Adriaan, (McFadden), Maria’s son who is selfishly smitten over Jane overhears his mother begging Marais to touch her, after declaring her love to him. Adriaan gets angry, but can’t confront Marais and resorts to exposing him and Jane at the dinner table and even lets out his mother’s secret.
The film is an episode in the life of poet and naturalist, Eugene Marais, his love for helping people, nature and his love for getting into the minds of animals regardless of their size. Marais plays a good role and brings out the best in the other characters, he is somewhat a catalyst in a chain reaction between the members of the family and wants to fix things for them but is not able to fix or change things in his own life. Weyers, who plays Tim Jordaan in the South African Afrikaans drama 7de laan delivers a killer performance as the jealous, enraged husband and farmer Gys van Rooyen.
The film is really fascinating and keeps the viewer glued to the screen. The historic theme of the film makes it even more interesting. Its an epic tale about a romantic quadrangle, about heartbreak and disappointment, lies and deceit and forbidden love. A film that deals with Afrikaner heritage but is easy to relate to, the scenery is wonderful, the actors are intriguing and so is the script. However one has to really want to watch this film in order to understand its message. Once the viewers get the feel of the movie, they are delivered into a sentimental experience of a rural South African landscape of the past.