The young woman’s face is determined as she drives through the night. She’s shaking. It’s clear there is anger, and perhaps something else, boiling beneath the surface. Her small frame and short blonde hair hint at a vulnerability. A road sign shows she’s headed for Bloemfontein.
She arrives at a house and rings the bell. It’s raining, and she’s soaked. Inside, a couple lies sleeping. A woman wakes up and tells the man next to her to check who is at the door, thinking it might be their daughter who’s forgotten her keys. The man asks who’s outside. The young woman answers, “Dis ek, Anna” (It’s me, Anna). The man is surprised and opens the door. He recognises the woman as his stepdaughter. He goes outside, and then sees the gun pointing at him. The young woman is crying. Shots are heard.
When Anna Bruwer (Charlene Brouwer) hands herself over to police and admits to shooting her stepfather, Danie du Toit, (Morné Visser), lead detective, Windhond Webber (Marius Weyers) is mystified about the motive. When he asks why she shot Danie, Anna says “I had to. Somebody had to.” Then, she tells her story.
12-year old Anna’s life is thrown into disarray, when her alcoholic father and her mother, Johanna (Nicola Hanekom) divorce. Johanna moves on and marries her boss, Danie, an easy going, friendly man who accepts Anna (Izel Bezuidenhout) as his own daughter. But when Danie’s affectionate hugs turn into inappropriate touching, Anna knows something is wrong. One night, as the family is lying on the floor watching television, Danie molests Anna under the blanket. The young girl is so shocked she is unable to move.
Molestation becomes sexual assault becomes rape. Danie makes it clear that if Anna tells anyone, her mother, and little half-sister, Carli, will suffer. Anna’s innocence is destroyed. As a teenager, she desperately tries to forget her torment by sneaking out to go to parties, smoking, sleeping with boys. When Danie finds out, he is furious and attacks Anna’s boyfriend, labelling Anna a slut and whore. The one time she tries to confide in anyone, her pastor, she is merely told to pray.
Dis ek, Anna, is the most powerful, disturbing, and important local film to be released this year. Based on Anchien Trotskie’s two semi-autobiographical novels (which she wrote under the pseudonym, Elbie Lotter), it details Anna’s abuse, as well as her murder trial. The film is graphic, and the director, Sara Blecher, fought for the initial age restriction of 18 to be changed to 16, so that it can be screened at schools and help educate girls about sexual abuse. This fight was won.
The subject matter makes this film intensely difficult to watch; it’s gruelling, devastating, and heart-wrenching. But, with the staggering statistics of the sexual abuse of children in South Africa, it’s never been as imperative to see a story like this. Blecher doesn’t shy away from punching you in the gut. Her telling of the physical and psychological effects of child abuse is bold and brutally honest – commendable for a topic that isn’t discussed enough publically.
The acting is superb. Charlene Brouwer and Izel Bezuidenhout are outstanding as the older and younger Anna respectively. Morné Visser induces disgust and fury in the viewer as Danie du Toit, while Nicola Hanekom’s Johanna cuts a pathetic figure as a mother who knew her daughter was being abused, and chose to ignore it.
The film has won numerous awards at the Silwerskerm-fees, including Best Film, Best Director for Sarah Blecher, and Best Male Lead for Morné Visser. The movie will now head for the international festival circuit. It will be screened in Edinburgh, Scotland at the end of this month for The Africa in Motion Festival, before the producers head to London for a seminar at the Royal African Society Film Festival where they will discuss the movie, and then set up private screenings. In December, the film will be shown in Amsterdam as part of Post-Apartheid Cinema – A South African Focus before heading to the Palm Springs International Film Festival in California. There is also interest in the film from festivals in Sweden and Dubai.
If there is one local film that must be watched this year, it is Dis ek, Anna. This is the kind of movie that shows South Africa can compete with the best in the international film circuit. It’s a story about pain, courage, and redemption.
Director: Sarah Blecher
Cast: Charlene Brouwer, Izel Bezuidenhout, Morné Visser, Nicola Hanekom, Marius Weyers.
Rating: 4 out of 5
SA release date: 23 October 2015