THE ENDLESS RIVER
SUNDAY 23RD OCTOBER 6:30PM
The third film by visionary South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus, The Endless River is a gripping and beautifully made thriller that also works as a sophisticated and meditative study of how cycles of violence continue through people’s presumptions and projections. The lives of a French man and a South African woman become dangerously intertwined in the small South African town of Riviersonderend (Endless River) after the French man’s wife and children are murdered. Moving beyond his previous cinematic focus only on South African characters through his French protagonist, Hermanus raises vital, confrontational questions about race, gender and power - questions that remind us of our mutual entanglements, wherever we come from and wherever we are going to.
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Running time: 108 mins
review by jonathan mitchell
The verdant landscapes, reminiscent of the American prairies, give little clue as to the shifting tone of the drama that is about to unfold. In Chapter 1, Percy (Clayton Evertson) is released from four years in prison for a gang related crime. He returns to his wife Tiny (Crystal Donna-Roberts) and the tense atmosphere at the home they share with her mother. His life quickly descends into an endless cycle of drinking and gambling at local bars. A stranger comes to town in the form of Gilles (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who meets Tiny at the restaurant where she works. Tragedy rips his life apart after his family are brutally killed in a home invasion and his life descends into the blankness of grief. Tiny and Gilles – spurned wife and grieving widower – find some solace together.
Chapter 2: The local police chief implicates Percy in the murder of Gilles’ family. Coincidentally Percy and his cronies plan a robbery at the scene of the murder, presuming no police will be guarding it at night. When the plan goes wrong, Percy is found murdered. The police confront Gilles who denies any knowledge of the murder.
Chapter 3: After arrests are made relating to his family’s murder, Gilles and Tiny grow together through their mutual grief. They embark on a road trip which seems to say more about his need to flee than it does about his need to be with Tiny. Their relationship becomes sexual but a rift develops between them when she discovers the mugshot of her husband in Gilles’ wallet. Flashbacks cast some doubt on the veracity of his claim to have no involvement in Percy’s death. An ambiguous ending leaves some doubt as to where they are going next – either physically or emotionally.
In less capable hands, this material could have made for a prurient and sensationalised narrative. However, Hermanus deftly weaves the various narrative threads together and never resorts to melodramatic overemphasis. The bleakness of much of the first part of the film is underpinned by the steely greys and blues of that are drawn out in each shot. This austerity is matched by the sparse dialogue and underplayed performances, particularly that of Duvauchelle as he veers from sullen incomprehension to outbursts of rage. Ultimately we are left with a familiar question of narrative veracity: just where does the truth lie?