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Wednesday, August 9, 2017


(Crystal Donna Roberts in “Krotoa”. Pic by Uwe Jansch)

Something of a limited, plodding affair with a number of stagey sequences. (Review: Patrick Compton - 6)

It’s good that South African cinema is increasingly capturing this country’s often hidden or at least shadowy history. And this movie, about a woman whom many see as the mother of the Coloured people, is particularly welcome.

It has to be said, however, that Roberta Durrant’s 122-minute movie is something of a limited, plodding affair with a number of stagey sequences that have the look of a school history pageant about them. Rarely do we get the sense of a believably vibrant Cape Colony experiencing a clash of civilisations between the colonising Dutch and the indigenous Khoi peoples. Perhaps this is the result of a limited budget.

Nevertheless, the movie’s material is important and the film should at least end up serving as an educational tool for schoolchildren.

The life of Krotoa (1643-74), a Khoi woman who served as a translator and mediator between the Dutch and the Khoi, has only been historically accounted for in the diaries of the Dutch settlers, with all the inbuilt bias that implies. So it is good to see that the balance has been restored by Margaret Goldsmid and Kaye Williams who say their script is “inspired” by what they believe to be the historical facts.

The film’s main focus is on the complex relationship between Krotoa (well played by Crystal-Donna Roberts as an adult and Charis Williams as a young girl) and the Dutch governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck (Armand Aucamp). The latter is a largely sympathetic figure, with one devastating exception, and it is he who enables Krotoa to wield considerable influence in the political life of the colony.

But this elevation comes at a price as Krotoa is fatally scarred by her mediating role: the Khoi regard her as a traitor to her people while the Dutch – particularly after Van Riebeeck returns home and a more conservative governor takes over – increasingly despise her. Although she marries a local surgeon and explorer (Jacques Bessenger) and bears him three children, she increasingly finds herself alienated by both communities. Ultimately Krotoa, named Eva by the Dutch, suffers a tragic fate that was always likely in such a harshly divided community where all the power lies with the invaders.

Krotoa’s life remains a hugely important one, not least in the history of the Coloured peoples. There are wider themes as well, which have recurred throughout the country’s history and its periods of colonisation by the Dutch and the British, namely the contentious issues of land and cattle, as well as the destructive and disdainful attitudes of the colonisers towards the indigenous people.

It’s a pity that the film couldn’t have been better, with the script allowing Roberts as well as the other actors little scope to create rounded characters, while the cinematography is unexceptional bar occasional dramatic shots of the pounding surf that serve as one of the film’s metaphors. The most vivid metaphor, however, is the occasion when Krotoa is raped, a brutal event that changes her life and suggests with ruthless economy the nature of colonisation.

Krotoa opened in Durban on August 4. – (Patrick Compton)