Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Fourth Reich (1990)

The director's cut of The Fourth Reich, also linear in structure and realistic in style, is Manie Van Rensburg's greatest achievement. The film is basically structured as a thriller, a hunt by a dedicated Afrikaner policeman, Jan Taillard (Marius Weyers), working undercover to expose and capture the fascist, Robey Leibbrandt (Ryno Hattingh), before he carries out his plan to assassinate General Smuts. Van Rensburg's themes of betrayal, the outcast, communication problems in relationships (in this case between Taillard and his wife) and Afrikaner nationalism are all present and brilliantly developed in the director's cut which runs for over three hours.

The controversy surrounding the production has suggested that the shorter theatrical version is perhaps not fully the film Van Rensburg made, and that to see his concept at its best one should watch the three-hour television version. But even the shorter version is still an impressive achievement: it depicts, as does Heroes, a time when the country was divided, as thousands of Afrikaner patriots, instead of joining the war effort, flocked to an ultra right-wing organisation violently opposed to the British.

Right-wing extremist sentiments are personified in the Leibbrandt character. He objects to his parents' friendship with a Jewish family. According to him, they are exploiting the Afrikaner nation. Later in the film, he and members of the Stormjaers blow up the shop of this Jewish family. During the recruiting of members, he remarks: "The Afrikaner grew up with his Bible in his one hand and his gun in the other. This is why we are still here." After this sequence, he starts a sabotage campaign.

The film is well structured and edited. Its linear structure involves two parallel narrative lines of Leibbrandt and Taillard respectively starting their missions, receiving instructions and making contact with crucial people. These storylines become one in both characters' involvement with a German woman. Taillard cannot tell his wife about his mission. His obsessive involvement in his work contributes to the separation between them. It is never resolved.

The Fourth Reich is one of the few South African films to make the great landscapes of this country (in particular the Cape Province, a recurring landscape within Van Rensburg's oeuvre) an integral part of the narrative structure.

Visually the film is hauntingly beautiful, photographed by Dewald Aukema. It fully deserved the 1990 AA Life Vita Award for best cinematography. The film's authentic images consist mostly of long shots of figures against the landscapes of a rural South Africa in contrast to medium and close-up shots of characters within darkly lit indoor settings.

Louis van Rensburg composed a remarkably authentic musical score for the film, developing specific musical themes for the key characters. Concertinas and violins were used throughout, as well as the Second Movement of Franz Schubert's Piano Trio in E-Flat Op 100, for the characterisation of the German woman, Frau Dorfman.

The failure of the film at the box office, however, was a shock for the industry. It cost some R16 million to make, raised mostly through the tax incentive scheme. The film opened with 20 prints, a saturated media and highly favourable reviews. Van Rensburg took best director at the Vita Awards. One explanation for its failure is that the main distributors, Ster-Kinekor, Nu Metro and UPI only cater for a small portion of the population. There are no cinema outlets to which blacks have easy access, the luxury complexes only being in the cities. Cinemas may be multi-racial, but outside the cities there are no substantial distribution chains to ensure that the majority of the South African population will see local movies.


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