The Breaking Glass Pictures June 18, 2019 DVD release of the 2018 "coming-of-age age war musical" period piece "Kanarie" fully demonstrates the regard of Breaking for the spirits of both Pride and the '80s. The film also shows that not learning the lessons of apartheid and government-condoned homophobia back them are condemning us to repeat aspects of both 35 years later.
The following YouTube clip of a "Kanarie" trailer does just as well highlighting all of the three seemingly incompatible elements of the film as writer/director Christiaan Olwagen does blending them.
"Kanarie" opens on a high note; 18 year-old Johan is having great fun wearing a wedding gown and clowning around with his sister. This glee leads to a dare for Johan to walk down the street of his small conservative town in that garb. The rest of the story is that the parents of that excitable boy/fan of Boy George and Depeche Mode are prominent pillars of the community.
All starts out well and leads to one of a few fantasy musical numbers that are straight out of the MTV of the era. Things come crashing down in a way to which all of us who have shed off our repressions and expressed pure joy only to have the real world provide an abrupt rude awakening can relate.
The expression "out the frying pan, into the fire" is very apt regarding the news that awaits Johan on his return from his walk-of-shame. He learns that his number has come up and that he must enter the South African army for his two years of service. The rest of the story is that this is an era in which the actual battle regarding apartheid is at a peak.
Johan receives less-than-anticipated relief when his musical talents earn him a spot in the titular South African Defense Forces Church Choir. That group travels around performing for the folks back home. The rude awakening this time is that the military is very effective at reminding the songbirds that they still are soldiers.
The next scenes evoke strong thoughts of the 1988 Neil Simon semi-autobiographical non-musical war movie "Biloxi Blues." That film has Brooklyn draftee Jerome (Matthew Broderick) traveling to the titular Southern city for basic training before being shipped off to show Mr. Hitler that the nephews of Uncle Sam have something to say about how The Little Corporal is running things.
Like Jerome, Johan boards a train for his first military home away from home. Both boys also travel with those who at least will be near (if not dear) to them for the foreseeable future. In the case of Jerome, this is rotund high-voiced hyper-active (queen?) Ludolf and their (not-so-little) corporal, whose behavior screams for him to become a victim of friendly fire.
One difference is that Johan and his band (pun intended) of brothers is headed to the Valhalla Air Force Base in Swartkop.
Beyond that, the similarities between "Biloxi" and "Kanarie" are so strong that one must think about whether come elements are from the former or the latter. An example of this is a white soldier in "Biloxi" concealing that one of his parents is black. Another "Biloxi" scene has two gay soldiers getting caught in the act prompting a witch hunt.
Johan and Ludolf soon meet and bond with Wolfgang Muller, who shares the enthusiasm of Johan for the pop music of the day.
Much of the good humor of "Kanarie" comes courtesy of scenes with the stereotypical host families with whom they stay while on tour. These include a motherly type and a Mrs. Robinson who clumsily tries to seduce the lads.
It is during this period that Johan and Wolfgang truly become brothers at arms. The problem is that Johan is uncomfortable about even accepting (let alone embracing) that he is gay. He puts this in the context that Boy George is keeping at least one foot in the closet.
Of course, all this leads to final act drama as Johan faces the dual pressures of being in the military and singing in a church choir. The means by which he receives at least a quantum of solace shows that there was more enlightenment than generally considered in the mid-80s.
The bigger (and highly relatable) picture this time is that virtually all of us experience a first or second coming-of-age on concluding our high-school career. We experience the larger world by entering college, enlisting in the military, or immediately becoming a wage slave. The common lessons that come with these experiences is that we must adapt or perish and that that does not always come with the luxury of to thine own selves be true.
Olwagen nicely expresses the times that are a changing in the South African in the '70s and '80s and what makes his characters from that era tick in an insightful DVD extra, This feature also provides good behind-the-scenes secrets.