- Director: Christiaan Olwagen
- Writer: Charl-Johan Linginfelder; Christiaan Olwagen
- Producer: Jaco Smit; Roelof Storm
If it's not the best film to come out of 2018...it's damn well close!
Apartheid, war, nationalism, conscription, homosexuality...and, Boy George! Indeed, a heady mix...many a director would crumple under the weight of most of these subjects...not Christiaan Olwagen.
First, a bit of background...
The South African Border War lasted for 23 years, 6 months, 3 weeks and 2 days [1966-1990]. In 1967, a compulsory and universal conscription was implemented for white South African men aged over 16 and up to 65 years old. Initially they had to serve for 9 months which increased to 2 years...thereafter, serving for 30 days annually for the next 8 years.
To avoid the draft, many families [who were able] left South Africa...or, they sent their sons abroad for school [me being one]...under the apartheid regime, they were not allowed to return. Those unfortunate souls who were either gay or conscientious objections would - most definitely - be sent to 'Ward 22' - a 'hospital' unit run by evil-incanate [the so-called doctor] Aubrey Levin. Here, they were tortured [aka Aversion therapy] into fit-for-war heterosexuals.
Levin fled to Canada to avoid the justice from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - later [rather than sooner] he was found guilty on 3 counts of [homosexual] assault and given a [ridiculously lenient] 5-year prison sentence.
There is much more to this story...but, this précis sets the scene for Canary - the grimmest of times for gay South African men. Terrifying times, apartheid was...for everyone who was not a [most foul] supremacist.
Imagine...being in your late teens, fresh out of school, conscripted into a futile war, bible-bashed and gay. It's a mixture of confusion, frustration and abject terror...those poor boys! Sounds like a mighty depressing film, it is not. This is how the human spirit intervenes, how coping systems take over...and, if it takes Boy George to help you through those dark times...let the 'Boy' reign supreme.
Schalk Bezuidenhout serves a 'fine-dining' performance...how could you not make a meal of this character!?! Sometimes...you want to hug him, hold him, cry with him, slap some sense into him...but, always...you will listen to him. He is the voice of a generation...and, that is why this film is so important...the wounds may have healed, the scars remain. These stories need to be told...
Thank you Mr Olwagen, thank you Mr Linginfelder for having the balls. Thank you...to the cast [all of you] - especially for the music - but, also, for your obvious dedication to the story.
Easily, the finest film to have come out of South Africa...and, in our humble opinion, the best film of 2018.
Set in South Africa in 1985 against a backdrop of apartheid, religion and war, Canary is a charming musical drama that chronicles one teen’s struggle to find his voice.
Seventeen-year-old Johan is a small-town boy whose love of British new wave music, and especially Boy George, makes him an easy target for bullying from the neighbourhood kids. When he gets called up for military service, Johan auditions for, and is accepted into, the Canaries— the South African Defence Choir. Initially believing that the choir means he will not be fighting in the war, Johan begins to see the role he plays in the oppression and injustice around him. If that isn’t enough to deal with, Johan is also falling in love with Wolfgang, a fellow Canary.
As Johan’s beliefs about religion, patriotism and sexuality are brought into question, he is left to rely on his emerging creativity and passion for music. And after all, who doesn't need a dance break from time to time?