A film covering “a pair of star-cross’d lovers” is certainly nothing new, and for centuries creators have strived to honour the trope by putting their own distinct spin on it. As a film by South Africans set in their very own country Free State sets itself apart from the crowd at its outset, in particular because it neglects the assumed Black and White mixed couple [and all of the baggage that comes with it] in favour of an Afrikaans woman and an Indian man.
Jeanette, South African model Nicola Breytenbach’s first role, is a law student in the mid-70s returning home to Memel and her father. Ravi, played by Andrew Govender, another model, is a man whose family is currently working out the specifics of his upcoming arranged marriage.
The reason they can never be together is spelled out in the first few minutes of the film in which Jeanette, describing her childhood, relates the story of a man arrested for being Indian in the Free State province after dark. She also shares the details of South Africa’s Immorality Acts that she learned about while in school, which explicitly prohibit sexual intercourse between White and non-White people. It’s racism, plain and simple, and while not the freshest romantic deterrent it’s nonetheless framed in way most viewers won’t be familiar with. Continue reading