There were so many things about this movie that immediately caught my interest upon reading the summary of Christiaan Olwagen’s new film, I was ecstatic to watch Kanarie (Canary). I was not prepared for the ranges of emotions and reflection that occurred through its viewing.
Kanarie is a film described as a coming-of-age story about a small town boy who finds his true self while serving in the South African Defense Force Choir. Johan (Schalk Bezuidenhout) experiences situations that help him evolve as a person, but is also exposed to the larger, complicated world that is South Africa in the 1980s. As a backdrop and foundation to the story, music and pop culture help define this film.
What I enjoyed most about this film was the surprises I was presented as a viewer. From the moment the film truly starts, the perception of what this film represents is a tool for the deeper meaning behind the story. After initial introduction to Johan, with his dear friends in tow, we are treated to an innovative musical number, an homage music video era. This number is a unique way to catch the audience up on who Johan is and what he is faced with in his small conservative town. Its light and entertaining, as music videos are, but the visuals represent a darker side to his past.
There is a slow down, of sorts, when Johan is propelled into the Defense Force. He and his fellow choir members may not be infantry men, but they are definitely still in the military. This reduced story pace is coupled with an increased speed of scenes, which is an interesting counter. The speed represents the new physical world, which is chaotic and intense, while the stagnancy of the story mimics the clarity of his personal world. With the introduction of the flamboyant yet inspiringly confidant Ludolf (Germandt Geldenhuys) and the tranquil yet genuine Wolfgang (Hannes Otto), Johan is able to see beyond the boundaries he grew up with.
Even the contradiction between the fluid artistic visuals the camera represents against the horrific world that was South African Apartheid seem to coincide with the various worlds one is presented with. It’s almost as if Olwagen was using Kanarie as a piece to also show the coming of age of the region as a whole. That’s not to say all problems have been removed, for I don’t know if that’ll ever be possible (in any area of the world), but it’s a growth from then to now.
That’s what I appreciated most about this “coming of age” story, it wasn’t what you expected but always what you hoped for. You get to see the change in Johan, experience it with him as he opens himself up to his true tribe. It’s not easy making these types of transitions, but with support anything is possible. Kanarie represents the journey to find courage to find the strength within to be yourself.
Kanarie has musical numbers and evolution of a character, but it’s so much more than a coming of age musical. It’s a powerful exploration of truth, both internally and externally. We all should thrive to find the courage that Johan has throughout the course of this film.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Mache Media