Meerkat Maantuig (2017)
It should come as no surprise to any of us when South African movies and series, and their stars, are the recipients of prestigious international awards – such as Meerkat Maantuig, number 3 on this list, which has scooped up awards from film festivals all over the world.
And then there are the fan-favourite films that have a special place in our hearts for their quirky storylines and their beautifully sketched characters, such as Liewe Kersfeesvader, which is a real treat at any time of the year, and made number 5 on this list.
Whether you’re after critically acclaimed movies that will make you think, or sweet, fun family fare, you won’t go wrong with any of the movies on this list, handpicked by Stephen Aspeling and now streaming on Showmax.
Dis Ek, Anna tells the haunting story of Anna Bruwer, a woman who murders her stepfather after suffering eight years of child abuse. Dis Ek, Anna seeks to create awareness in a dark, edgy and provocative way, echoing the sentiment of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Masterful direction from Ayanda director Sara Blecher guides this moving, timely and beautifully-crafted South African crime drama thriller. Blecher actualises Anna’s quest for retribution and justice, drawing strong and heartfelt performances from Charlene Brouwer, Morne Visser and Izel Bezuidenhout.
Set against the backdrop of a country undergoing a silent crisis, Dis Ek, Anna grapples with vigilantism, restitution and the legal system as flashbacks inform the drama’s emotional gravity and sinister tone. Dis Ek, Anna is a devastatingly powerful and well-balanced film that manages to disturb, emote and educate.
IMDB rating: 8.3/10
Yesterday is the name of a young mother, who discovers she has AIDS and wants to live to see her daughter go to school. Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, Yesterday is a deeply moving social drama about the universal epidemic, told from a uniquely South African perspective.
Simple, slow and quietly powerful, writer-director Darryl Roodt finds his stride with the first feature-length Zulu film. Comparable with The Bicycle Thief for its humility, universality and purity, Yesterday’s a subtle drama powered by a heartfelt and honest lead performance from Leleti Khumalo.
Embodying the film’s graceful and noble spirit, Roodt restrains himself from becoming preachy, letting the emotionally taut and moving drama speak for itself. The educational undertones are delivered with a delicate touch, making this gentle message movie hauntingly sad and beautiful.
IMDB rating: 7.7/10
Meerkat Maantuig tells the story of Gideonette, a young daydreamer, who moves in with her eccentric grandparents. Writer-director Hanneke Schutte’s film embraces a similar tone, sense of spirituality and blend of nature and technology associated with Studio Ghibli, often referred to as the Japanese version of Disney. Ethereal, nuanced and layered, it has echoes of Wes Anderson’s fiddly and sentimental Moonrise Kingdom.
Following a sullen teenage girl, played by the fairy-like and thoughtful Anchen du Plessis, Meerkat Maantuig is lifted by rose-tinted optimism. Encouraging us to face our fears and to live courageously, the evergreen positivity is infectious in a story that will resonate with all ages. Set in an eco-forest, it’s a dazzling and magical film thanks to sun-dappled lighting, lush vegetation and smooth cinematography.
Creating its own mythos to deal with a number of difficult themes like Bridge to Terabithia, the film never loses its playful innocence. While the emotional journey is touching and poetic even, the unusual tone and scrapbook feel give it a curious and delightful otherworldliness.
IMDB rating: 8.1/10
The past and present converge in Sink, as a domestic worker comes to terms with the death of her daughter and confronts her guilt-ridden employers. This is an emotionally powerful and elegant “kitchen sink” drama that serves as a gripping before-and-after character portrait of a tragic accident.
Writer-director Brett Michael Innes gives Sink a Scandinavian feel in terms of emotional heft and style, opting to set the film in a clinical, sparse and upmarket suburban home. Sleek visuals, sharp performances and rich symbolism swathe us in stark and challenging drama.
The film stars Anel Alexander, Jacques Bessenger and the late Shoki Mokgapa in a trio of performances that capture the blue tones, heartache and turmoil at the core of this intense yet rewarding film.
While the edit and pacing are slow-burning, the full immersion arrives in an all-consuming third act as the story’s strands intertwine. While flitting dangerously close to becoming bleak, it’s artful and nuanced enough to rebalance with lighter, happier memories. Sink is breathtakingly visceral at times, operating with finesse and continually building momentum to a deeply satisfying and soulful conclusion.
IMDB rating: 8.1/10
Liewe Kersfeesvader is an offbeat comedy-drama about a teenage girl coming to terms with her father’s belief that he is, in fact, Santa Claus. While there’s plenty of jingle to this often heartwarming Christmas-themed movie, it’s not without some prickly holly as we encounter a family’s growing pains.
Die Windpomp writer-director Etienne Fourie has crafted a film of sharp performances, snappy characters and smart writing. Mila Guy is compelling opposite a melancholic Morné Visser as Nonnie tries to keep the household in check while dad takes a staycation for one. Funny, quirky and touching, this local “dramedy” knows just how to decorate the tree, leveraging stylish visuals and a colour palette centred around the Christmas motif.
While subtle, Liewe Kersfeesvader does verge on becoming overly sentimental on occasion but manages to navigate back to its quirky dark comedy tone. It’s a mature South African film: a beautifully composed, nuanced and well-balanced take on family dysfunction.