Posbus 1: a beautifully sad South African Christmas tale
It is that time of the year when adults can do with a little bit of Christmas magic, or at least entertain the idea of the symbolism that surrounds the festive season, if only for the sake of those who still believe in Santa, his reindeer, Mrs Claus and the elves.
Christmas is, at its best, a time of celebration in many different forms for many different people and for many different reasons. In a way, it gives closure to the year that was, and boy, do we need closure for 2020 or what?
Somewhere beyond our peripheral vision, it is also a very sad time for a lot of people. Occasionally, that sadness is presented and packaged in a positive way that gives us something to reflect on, and perhaps even nudges us to take some sort of action.
The Afrikaans Christmas movie Posbus 1, streaming on Showmax, is packaged and presented in such a way. The storyline is a fresh concept with a nostalgic hook: in the early 80s on an episode of the popular Afrikaans children’s show, Haas Das, it was revealed that Santa Claus’s postal address was PO Box 1, Pretoria – which happened to be the postal address of Ben (Carel Trichardt) and Ria Botha (Petru Wessels).
Understandably, the couple got overwhelmed with letters (or wishes, as they call them) from hopeful children from all over the country. The unopened letters just kept piling up in the house over the years, because opening one letter would mean opening all of them, which would end up being a huge responsibility.
As the couple grow older and their living space gets more and more cluttered, their home becomes a liability, especially when their mobility starts taking a knock. One tragic day, Ria suffers a fatal fall as she reaches out for some of the letters while Ben is out.
Partly driven by resentment and anger, their daughter, Anna (Cindy Swanepoel), attempts to rid her father (and her childhood house) of her mother’s memories by burning all the letters – but she misses one. Seeing this as a sign of Ria reaching out from beyond the grave, Ben opens the envelope and finds an unexpected, sad Christmas wish from a boy who just wants his father to return home for Christmas.
Despite the fact that this letter was sent to Ben and his wife nearly 30 years ago, Ben decides to set off on a spontaneous journey, following leads all over Pretoria to locate the author of the letter. He meets several interesting people along his journey, and finds himself in dangerous situations, including getting mugged by street thugs (which is so typically and infuriatingly South African: it’s Christmas, damnit! Leave the old omie alone!).
Despite the misfortune he also finds compassion in unlikely characters such as a young, pregnant shop assistant who orders him his first ever Uber ride, a 12-year-old boy who single-handedly cares for his sickly gogo by face-painting tourists, and a somewhat ditsy, comical nun who, with the wink of an eye, refuses to hand Ben over to the authorities when it is announced over an FM broadcast that he is presumed missing.
Posbus 1 is about an authentic and believable South African everyday miracle that happens to play out over Christmas.
All of this leads to Ben’s realisation that, no matter your age, you are never too old to experience a life-changing event.
At a glance, Posbus 1 is a story about broken families and neglect, but for the most part it is a mirror that is held up and forces us to deal with sadness, solitude and loneliness in the most gentle way. It is also a reminder that there is a big difference between solitude and loneliness, as Ben eventually finds meaning in all the sadness that surrounds him.
The other characters also seem to be alone. Ben’s daughter, Anna, for example, is trapped in a loveless marriage. Phumzi, the 12-year-old boy, doesn’t do anything but work and care for his gogo. And the nun… well… she’s a nun, but she seems to be the happiest of everyone.
Posbus 1 is beautifully filmed and produced and doesn’t present us with one of those formulaic Hollywood Christmas miracles, but rather an authentic and believable South African everyday miracle that happens to play out over Christmas.
It is a story about coming to terms with the things you don’t have control over, but it is also a story about families making broken things work. It is a story of healing, forgiveness, togetherness, gratitude and, importantly, neighbourly compassion – something we can all aspire to have a little bit more of in our back pockets.
Before you start streaming, hear from Cindy Swanepoel, who plays Anna, about what the movie means to her, and why she found it so intriguing when she was first offered the role.