In Seun (“Son”) veteran film director Darrell Roodt delivers a one-of-a-kind war film – a film that focuses not on battle – but on the impact of massive injuries on both the wounded and their immediate family. What Robert Zemeckis merely touches on in Forrest Gump in the character of Lieutenant Dan, Roodt dwells on for an entire feature film. Filmed and scored in Afrikaans, the film would have reached a much wider audience if it was recorded in American English and featured the Vietnam War in place of the South African Border War. Instead, a few lucky film viewers will have the chance to reflect on the true impact of war when the glory and “the cause” are gone – and all that’s left are the broken bodies of the casualties.
The film begins by establishing life before war. Paul is the only son of a middle-class farmer in small town South Africa. He is about to be conscripted into the South African Defense Force where all the resources of both Cuba and Angola will try to kill him. Paul’s life is ideal in a rural way: he is engaged to a beautiful farm girl, his family is prosperous, his community supports him. Then the war comes and tragedy strikes. Paul risks his life to save a friend, and in the process, is gravely wounded and unable to move his body from the neck down.
Then the real struggle starts – the struggle not to defeat the enemy but to put on one’s pants; the struggle of a mother who is committed to her duty but the daily grind of caring for a broken young man begins to choke her soul; the struggle of a father who wants to fix everything and doesn’t know how to cope with a wheelchair-bound son that’s not fixable. Paul’s fiance looks at the immovable stump of the handsome young man who once held her and kissed her – and the engagement ring on her finger becomes more heavy than Paul’s immovable body. Then there is the story of Paul himself – trapped in a body he can’t control – doomed to depend on others for everything – unable to even feed himself. It’s grueling and horrific in a way most gore-bathed, unthinking films can never be.
The film is slow. It lingers – a meditation on broken humanity. After screening countless Hollywood blockbusters which feature scores of bullet-ridden bodies rag-dolling across IMAX screens as the audience cheerfully looks on while consuming unlimited amounts of coca-cola and popcorn, it will do any veteran film buff a great deal of good to watch Roodt’s idiosyncratic feature. It truly is one of a kind.