• Golden Globe Awards

Toorbos (South Africa)

If you have ever experienced the deep serenity and powerful joy of hugging a tree, this movie might be for you. More than that, Toorbos is a brilliant film that takes you to the South Africa’s Knysna forest of the 1930s; an unusual and rarely shown landscape and time in the life of the African nation. It is an important place in its colonization and maybe this is why the film was chosen as the official South African submission for the Academy Awards.  
In the film, directed by Rene Van Rooyen, we are introduced to a young woman, the free-spirited Karoliena, played by Elani Dekker (of 2016 Jou Romeo’s fame) who leads a poor but serene life, deep in the forest with her ailing widowed mother. Karoliena is just out of her teens, in 1933, earning some money giving tours of the forest. Toorbos translates into dream forest and the young girl seems to fit in with every leaf, flower or bush of this toorbos. Her soul seems to be deep in the forest as we see a spiritual connection with a particular huge and century-old tree where she finds peace and comfort. This will become a stumbling block in the love story that will follow.
The government is trying to settle the place and the people living in the woods. And we follow the uprooting of this young woman and her community during a crucial period: just before WWII. The first part of the film offers a magical realist period drama, as Karoliena is coaxed into marriage to a townsman, experiences the realities of progress, discovers its oppression of society, the growing power of money on cultural homogenization and what it will take to stay true to herself. 
The man she marries is a good man, Johannes Kapp, played by Stiaan Smith. They soon find love for each other. Johannes was himself a forest kid. He has now conformed very well to town life and progress and the desire to share his new life with the beautiful but naïve Karoliena. The story is from the late Dalene Matthee, author of “Forest Novels” a very successful set of four evocative books, and this adaptation, written with love and passion by Van Rooyen, really captures the essence of the novel. As Karoliena is transformed into a town girl by an old lady chaperon, life seems to dissipate from her wide wonderous eyes. Johannes in an act of kindness teaches her to drive, but he has no clue on how to cherish this forest flower.
WWII comes from distant shores and the film shows how the young girl becomes a woman in her new urban settings. In the 10 years of the story she is always longing to get back to toorbos. Alas the government has decided to deforest the area and build peripheral housing for its people, former Dutch wood cutting immigrants. A melancholic look at the loss of her beloved environment and inner innocence.