This beautiful South African movie was shot on location in the Kalahari Desert, a breathtaking backdrop if ever there was one. It is directed by Regardt van den Bergh, who recently directed “Faith like potatoes” (2006), and it tells the story of a journey of healing and self-discovery. The movie is based on the real life story of a horse called Tornado, a troubled young man called Pierre, a horse whisperer by the name of Barrie Burger, and the healing and transformation that occurs when these three come together in the northern deserts of South Africa. (See trailer).
Tornado, the beautiful white Arab stallion of the title, is a direct descendant from the original Arab bloodlines of the Bedouin tribes; although he has the perfect genes to be a stud stallion, he became temporarily sterile because too much pressure was put him to perform. He mistrusted humans and attacked them if they approached him; he also engaged in self-mutilation, kicking and biting himself until he bled. (For more about Tornado – played by Kashmir – read here.)
Pierre (played by Quentin Krog) is an excellent athlete, and a fantastic runner, with both speed and endurance. Since youth, however, and ever more increasingly as he grows older, he has been suffering from debilitating bouts of rheumatism, which even copious amounts of painkillers cannot heal. Like Tornado, he too engages in self-mutilation, driven by a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful and self-destructive desire to release his sense of frustration and failure. (For more about Pierre, read here.)
It is just after his studies for a diploma in Equine Studies at the Tswane University of Technology, that he encounters Tornado for the first time. Somehow, the horse’s plight touches a chord in him. When someone gives him three cassettes to listen to – the inspirational stories of Barrie Burger, which speak of the healing work he did on emotionally damaged horses – he decides that he wants to take Tornado out to the Kalahari to meet Barrie, and to ask him for help.
And so the three of them meet up in the tiny settlement of Noenieput, in the middle of the vast open spaces of the Kalahari desert.
Barrie Burger (played by Danny Keogh) is a missionary, as well as a horse whisperer, so he occasionally disappears into the desert to speak with the people living there, far from any civilisation. It is a remarkable story:
“Barrie started Kalahari Missions in 1985, after a very vivid dream which – to him – outlined his God-given calling and destiny. Barrie: “I saw a man walking into the Kalahari desert on a dirt road. He carried a Bible. Even though he was tired and thirsty, he walked with determination. I knew he was a missionary and I knew it was me.”
Barrie decided on the horse as a method of transport, mainly to be able to associate with the poor communities around him. During the more than 20 years of ministry, he has spent hundreds (if not thousands!) of evenings alone with his horse under the stars, en route to the lonely and isolated people of the desert.” (official website)
Barrie explained his view of horse whispering:
“I think a horse whisperer is someone who understands the sensitivity of the horse’s soul, someone who knows that through cursing and fighting and hitting you can force a horse to do what you want him to do, but in the process you lose the potential of a precious relationship. With a horse you speak with your body, not with your voice. You listen with your eyes, not with your ears. And you touch with your heart, not with your hands.” (official website)
In addition to the work that Barrie and Pierre do with the horse, there is also a budding love interest in the form of Meretha (Leán van den Bergh), the young woman who lives on a nearby farm and who regularly visits Barrie and his wife on their farm. As Pierre starts to acknowledge the pain he has been carrying inside himself for years, and as his heart opens up to Tornado in a kind of mutually reinforcing spiral of healing, he also starts to open up to the possibility of falling in love.
Peter Lamberti, the producer, spoke about some of the challenges of filming in the Kalahari Desert – for the horses, the actors, and the crew:
“This film has had a lot of miracles that have happened around it for everything to happen. I think we really got the right actors and they have done a brilliant job; the financing the film; the availability of key people working on the film all happened in a really unusual way. But then coming down to the Kalahari to a place like Noenieput that only has four or five houses, and to try and make a film with a crew of about 50 people, in a place that’s got no running water, no electricity, no accommodation, no cell phone reception and no telephones, was a real challenge. But the crew has pulled together, and they’ve put up with minus eight degrees, sleeping in tents where the water has frozen up so they can’t even have a shower. I think they’ve done an amazing job” (official website)
It is a beautiful movie, although it is a little slow-moving and ponderous at times, and although the acting is smetimes a little awkward and on the edge of clumsy. I also would have loved to know more precisely what the ten steps were, through which Pierre had to progress on his (and Tornado’s) journey of healing. But it was truly refreshing to watch a movie shot entirely in South Africa, and moreover one that did not give in to the customary hectic pace and high-action dramatics that characterise so many Hollywood movies. It crept into my heart, though, and I loved it.
For a very detailed and thorough review, read http://www.writingstudio.co.za/page2487.html.