Gilles (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a Frenchman recently moved to South Africa, who flirts with Tiny (Crystal-Donna Roberts) at a roadside café over lunch. That night there is tension at his home with his wife over the dinner table. In a huff he drives away from their farm, whilst out his wife and two sons are murdered by three masked men, his wife was raped, shot and stabbed repeatedly. Gilles becomes a ghost of the man we first see, his quest for justice is seemingly not heard by the local police led by Groenewald (Darren Kelfkens).
Tiny is married to Percy (Clayton Evertson) who has been released from prison after four years for his criminal activity in local gangs. Percy reintegrates with his gang friends, who we are led to believe killed Gilles’ family. Percy is asked to go back to the farm to rob what is left to steal, in that process he is run over by a car. Tiny is beyond grief having waited for him to get released.
The two lost souls of Gilles and Tiny forge a bond together to get thorough their grieving which culminates in a road trip to beaches, restaurants and hotels. The film ends with a denouement of someone's guilt and the trip continuing.
Hermanus has made a film that is both gripping and enchanting to look at, the sumptuous photography by Chris Lotz is at times mesmerising and goes hand in hand with the wonderful sound design and lush score written by Braam du Toit.
The director attempts to evoke the codes and conventions of 1950s Hollywood melodrama especially the work of Douglas Sirk, from whom he borrows he omnipresent camera angles such as when we first meet Gilles in the roadside café. He is shot from overhead and not head on as is usually the norm, this gives the impression of the director as God, overseeing all he has created and making it assured.
Hermanus has a sure hand of mise-en-scene and shot composition, and the Steadicam work during the family murder is startling; he also borrows from Nicholas Ray who also used doorways and closed doors to convey foreboding and doom.
The acting is melodramatic but expected in a narrative such as this and while the film is genuinely tense for most of the keys scenes, it is a shame that the admission through a supposed flashback is somewhat confusing considering the honesty displayed beforehand.
Initial reaction at the LFF this year has been low key but perhaps a following can be built up while Hermanus remains a young director with a bright future, and you can perhaps see a future Hollywood remake in the offering if he talent is formed correctly.