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Review: South African ‘The Harvesters’ is an austere psychodrama of life on a farm

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Alex van Dyk, left, and Brent Vermeulen in a scene from “The Harvesters.”
(Altered Innocence)

In “The Harvesters,” writer-director Etienne Kallos has crafted a profound story of brotherhood with semi-biblical undertones that connects two teen boys in an insidious battle for both emotional and familial supremacy. This darkly powerful psychodrama finds fear and tension in its hermetic world of rural farming and religious immersion amid the almost contradictory beauty of its sprawling South African locale.

Janno (Brent Vermeulen) is a stalwart, yet sensitive midteen whose devoutly Christian mother, Marie (Juliana Venter), brings troubled, unruly 13-year-old orphan Pieter (Alex van Dyk) to live with them on their remote family farm. But neither Janno nor his stern father, Jan (Morné Visser), likes this precarious new arrangement, fearing, in part, for the safety of Jan’s three younger sisters. Marie persists — she’s there to “save” Pieter.

What follows is a fraught and twisty coming-of-age journey for the dutiful, sexually questioning Janno and the brash and scrappy Pieter, who slowly prove to be two halves of a cold-hearted whole. Still, the boys, strongly played by Vermeulen and Van Dyk, find themselves as strangely bonded as they are at odds.

Kallos’ tough, austere, often Bergmanesque debut feature (he’s an admitted fan of the Swedish master) also offers a vivid window into South Africa’s churchgoing, agriculture-dominant Free State region, as well as of several lingering effects of apartheid and the cultural decline of the nation’s Afrikaner population.

'The Harvesters'
In Afrikaans and English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 27, Laemmle Glendale
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