Boston Underground Film Festival 2019 Review: “Canary” (2018) ★★★★★


Whenever the year starts, we movie lovers begin working on the list of our favorite films of the year. Even though there is a long road ahead and many more films yet to be seen, “Canary” from South Africa would certainly end up in my shortlist. While it explores the struggles associated with sexual identity, it does not tackle it or explores in the way mainstream cinema does. With a combination of soulful music and army, “Canary” creates an artistic world through the eyes of cinema and emerges as a unique shape known as determination and certainty where confusion is always there to challenge life.

Set in South Africa’s Johannesberg in 1985, the film follows Johan, an extremely talented young man. His love of British new wave music and uniqueness creates more trouble for him outside of his home when the neighborhood kids bully him. Now that he’s called up for military service, Johan auditions to join the Canaries – The South African Defence Choir. Even if that means he might not pick up a gun and shoot a bullet, he embarks himself on a war way more complicated and unequal – with himself when he falls for a fellow canary named Wolfgang and gets confused with who or what he is right now.

“Canary” is a heartwarming, charming and one of the unlikeliest musical drama you have ever seen. Filled with absolutely down-to-earth and simply outstanding performances, Christiaan Olwagen’s “Canary” takes the viewer to an environment where injustice and sexual inequality is what the society is mainly driven by. Johan has always known who he was and somewhere deep inside knew he was gay. However, he locks himself in the closet keeping himself comfortable enough not to speak about it until he meets Wolfgang, an equally talented young man who, unlike Johan, does not reject his true self.

Overall, it’s truly remarkable seeing how Johan expresses his fear of being judged by his parents or friends or even by God if he admits that he needs to become who he is rather than one who others expect him to be. And as the day turns into weeks and weeks into months, Johan realizes his pain even more, which turns the entire experience for the viewer so heartbreaking that by the time when we get used to Johan, he becomes for us as a close family member for whom we start feeling for and even understand what he is going through.

In conclusion, the enchanting performances delivered by Schalk Bezuidenhout as Johan, Hannes Otto as Wolfgang, Germandt Geldenhuys as Ludolf and Jacques Bessenger as a very supportive Reverend Engelbrecht “Canary” is easily one of those musical dramas that won’t be easily forgotten. Its honest and straightforward approach, ability to use the music and express the fear and expectations through cinematic language makes it unique in so many ways. And in the end, it has a simply splendid storyline about love, identity, courage and why the ability to be free from prejudice is a true medicine to happiness you will wish Johan to find a way to have by the end of his journey.

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