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Lifestyle in Style

“Kanarie”: South African Not Feel So Good Movie

Johan played by Schalk Bezuidenhout

Another LGBT movie distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures in the United States. You’ll know you are in for something different with a boisterous Bollywoodish dance fantasy scene accompanied by The Bronski Beat as the opening credits roll by.

Johan Niemand is a young South African man drafted into the SAFD (South African Defence Forces) in 1984 where he will receive military training and sing in a religious SAFD choir called Kanarie where each year 23 of best voices and musicians drafted into the SAFD will tour the country.

You get the impression Johan is gay right off the bat but coming out of the closet when homosexuality was illegal in South Africa is a bit problematic. And in the army in a religious choir! Talk about tricky!

So Johan boards the train to get to his base and encounters Corporal Crunchie who follows in the path seen in many movies about drill sergeants. I mean Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Ronald Emery) in the 1987 Full Metal Jacket was mean but Crunchie is more of a Begbie character from the 1996 film Trainspotting. He is delightfully psychopathic. Kudos to actor Beer Adrianse who literally steals the show with his fierce and maniacal performance. Priceless.

The Kanarie Choir

Matters get somewhat complicated as Johan (Schalk Bezuide) falls for fellow Kanarie member Wolfgang (Hannes Otto). All amidst the ultimate leadership of a fire and brimstone Reverend (Gerard Rudolf) who resembles James Olmos from Bladerunner and Miami Vice.

We get a brief respite from Crunchie and the religious atmosphere Kanarie members are subjected to as they go on a week-end pass to a local dance club where Johan’s fantasies emerge. At different instances he imagines himself as Boy George, Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, David Bowie, Cindy Lauper and Prince. What a scene that is! It makes me think is this movie a musical and dance film?

So Kanarie goes on tour and Johan and Wolfgang get hot and heavy in a very secretive fashion. At this point Johan realizes he is gay and if you are squeamish about gay romance well fast forward on a couple of scenes.

On tour we encounter South African families who billet the Kanaries. They are either lamenting the international boycotts of South Africa because of apartheid or disgusted and emotionally upset with the bully South African government. One host says when your cage is open get the fuck out of here and another is harshly critical of what she considers the Kanaries legitimizing South African brutality under the guise of religion. Another host is upset with the international boycotts and laments what used to be right is now incorrect.

Johan eventually has a melt down struggling with his gayness. He dances alone in his barracks to a Boy George song in a frenzy and when he wakes up the walls are covered in his blood and also his face and hands. He sees the gentle choir leader Engelbrecht (Jacques Bessenger) and confesses his misery at being a homosexual. Johan is tormented. Coming out is not easy.

So to sum up we are involved in a societal crisis, a human crisis and a Boy George obsession of Johan. We encounter reactionary and progressive South Africans and witness some innovative filmmaking. On my part all very interesting but I’ll sleep tonight thinking of Corporal Crunchie.

(“Kanarie”, 2018, South Africa, just over two hours, Director Christiaan Olwagen)

This film will be available as of June 18. Canadians should be able to access through iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google PlaY, Vudu, and DVD as well, but retailers have not been confirmed yet.

To see the trailer

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