Although Jaco Smit’s Vir Altyd can be argued as being successful in the South African box office, making R13.4 million in its first four weeks alone, it failed to contribute anything of moral or emotional value to the repertoire of Afrikaans films. In fact, I felt the film’s subject matter and its casting reflected a rather archaic view of relationships and race.
(Warning: this review may contain spoilers)
Vir Altyd tells the story of 28 year old Nina (Donnalee Roberts) who believes that happily ever after is inconceivable without a wedding. Her childhood friend and first love, Hugo (Ivan Botha), arrives back home after 10 years, just in time to see Nina’s dream fall apart and for them both to rush off to the scenic backdrop of Mauritius.
While definitely a step up in dialogue and cinematography from Pad na jou Hart, with a few very pleasing shots of the Mauritius scenery, the film still falls in my ‘cardboard house’ category because, while it looks like a good film, it comes across as insubstantial and cliched. This is despite the attempts to make it more serious with the inclusion of characters suffering from cancer or marital conflict.
My main issue with this film is that I felt cheated by its story line. In the beginning, Nina is left at the altar, in what I consider to be a fresh approach, as it subverted the stereotype in movies that the wedding signaled the “happily ever after”. In this case, the potential marriage signaled an “unhappy ever after”. This created the expectation that the film was going to be about more than just finding the perfect mate, as is the case with most Afrikaans romance films. In this day and age, when gender equality is still being fought for, I believe that a woman’s job is not solely to get married and have children. Her life does not begin when she is married. That is why I took offence when this expectation was then disappointed by the the film when it ends in a marriage anyway, this time with Nina saying “I do” to Hugo.
Another issue with the film was its representation of race. Halfway through the film I began to notice that all the main characters and other guests at the Mauritius resort were white. This is quite ridiculous as the resorts of Mauritius must surely be catering to more nationalities than is shown in the film. To add insult to offence, the Indian character, Sylvan (Santhiran Moonsamy), who is the manager of the resort, is portrayed in a similar way to the African character, “Nickens” (Terry Crews), in the American movie “Blended” (2014). Both these portrayals are, as New Yorker writer Richard Brody put it,”obliviously trivializing depictions” which are “based on long-superseded stereotypes,” and it seems even more distasteful in the case of Vir Altyd considering that it was made by South Africans who should be more aware of harmful stereotypes surrounding race.
With this said, the movie did have some nice touches, such as its use of costume to depict a change in Nina’s character and in the colourful Holi-inspired festival scene (although this scene was extremely random and obviously incorporated into the film purely for its aesthetic potential). Overall, Vir Alytd provides a pleasing visual experience, which had me wishing that they had put as much thought into the script as they had with the aesthetics of the scenery and costumes. It sure is a pretty cardboard house, but that doesn’t excuse its one-dimensional treatment of marriage and it’s stereotyped cast. I feel that the standard of the Afrikaans story needs to be raised as high as that of its technical storytelling.
(Featured image taken from Sarie)