Spectacularly set in the grasslands and mesas of South Africa’s Free State region, writer/director Etienne Kallos’ daunting first feature drills into the insecurities of an embattled white minority ranch culture once empowered by apartheid. In a devout Afrikaans family of cattle farmers, teenage Janno feels out of step. No wonder: as his mother observes his sturdy form trailing the herd we hear her implore her God to strengthen the boy’s blood, his heart, his seed. A long-withheld close-up of his open, vulnerable face suggests that no amount of prayer, obedience or rugby on Janno’s part can make him the mighty man of the land and procreator she prays for.
Though her husband could do with the help of an added son, he and Janno are both dismayed when she chooses to augment the household by rescuing Pieter, an orphan of Afrikaans parentage from a halfway house. She instructs Janno to make him his brother. We watch through Janno’s astonished, resentful eyes as this scathing, predatory survivor of the city streets puts a blazing torch to everything that has ever held Janno back. The heart of Kallos’ challenge to his countrymen lies in the Cain and Abel dance of the two young men, and they are electrifying.