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This South African-made action-drama unfolds against the background of a conflict little known about above the equator, much less used as a setting for film – the Namibian war of independence from 1966-90, AKA the South African border war. Often considered South Africa’s version of Vietnam, it was, among other things, a proxy fight between South Africa, then still under apartheid, and its allies at the time, and the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, who were backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Although there’s a fair amount of on-screen contextualising in the opening minutes to explain key terms and ideas, The Recce feels made for a local audience that has a grasp of the cultural and historical background. That means it’s not easy for outsiders to read the ideology of this stylised, fictional account of an elite Afrikaner soldier, Henk Viljoen (Greg Kriek), the “recce”, who is ordered to go across enemy lines alone one last time to kill a Russian officer. Henk leaves behind his pregnant wife Nicola (Christia Visser), with whom we spend a lot of screen time as she looks anxious, remembers happier moments in her marriage and visits Henk’s parents, who are sick with worry about their son. In the narrative mix is Captain Le Roux (Grant Swanby), an English-speaking South African officer who is also worried about Henk and the general madness of the war.
All three have internal monologues where we hear their poetic musings as the visuals show slow-motion action, often backlit with the blazing African sun, or drinking in the vast, awe-inspiring landscape. I’m guessing writer-director Johannes Ferdinand Van Zyl has been huffing Terrence Malick movies, particularly the ones about sensitive manly types, such as The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life. At any moment you expect Kriek to do a magical backflip in slo-mo as the soundtracks keens mournfully and magic hour breaks across the bush.
The characters of colour, such as the many indigenous people Henk shoots on his way in and out of Angola, don’t get to share their thoughts in dreamy voiceovers, which smacks more of oversight rather than overt racism. Nevertheless, the end result feels limited and ultimately a little pointless.
• The Recce is available on digital platforms from 8 February.
Source: The Guardian
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