Meerkat Moonship

I get to see a lot of foreign films. More accurately, I get to read a lot of foreign films. Not a complaint. It’s a welcomed part of this job. Often the charm of a foreign film is the absence of the trappings of American filmmaking and storytelling. American films are a little too grounded in reality while slathered with high-priced CG effects.

While we, American viewers and critics, demand realism and every plot-hole filled, caulked, and painted over, with foreign films, we are far more forgiving of its shortcomings. How kind of us.

From South Africa, Hanneke Schutte’s Meerkat Moonship is a children’s story with a scary edge to it, albeit a kid-gloved monster-under-the-bed scary edge. Ten-year-old Gideonette (Anchen du Plessis) was cursed the moment she was born. The curse is in her name, Gideonette. Her ancestors Gideon De La Ray, one after the other were hunted by a hairy monster, that eventually caught them and ate their entrails.

Gideonette’s father gave her that name out of defiance to the curse. But his plan backfired. Haunted for a decade by his decision, Gideon grew more and more guilty for what he did to his daughter while driving his wife Mathilda (Hanlé Barnard) to alcoholism. One day, the curse caught up to Gideon and he died leaving Gideonette and her mother alone.

“…her ancestors were hunted by a hairy monster, that eventually caught them and ate their entrails.”

Knowing that she’s next, Gideonette or Nettie as she prefers internalizes the curse and refuses to put herself in a position or situation that could get her killed.

The years of guilt and drinking left Mathilda unable to care for daughter alone, so she leaves Nettie with her parents Koekie (Rika Sennett) and Willem (Pierre van Pletzen) who live on a secluded farm, so Mathilda can get some “rest.” Afraid of a new environment and the dangers surrounding a farm, Nettie locks herself in her room for safety. All the while seeing the lurking hairy creature in the side of her eye.

Looking out her bedroom window, Nettie sees an odd young boy dressed like an astronaut. He’s carrying a small wagon tire over his head, while weirdly marching down the path. That is until he drops the tire and chases after it down the hill. Cute right?

The boy is Bhubesi (Themba Htuli) and the tire is for a Meerkat-shaped spaceship he is building with Willem out of junk and scraps. Bhubesi is preparing to fly to the moon and shows Nettie all of his research. Instantly a friendship is struck and Nettie begins to step out of her protected room and live a little with her new friend.

“It’s not slick or cool. Instead, it’s sweet with heart…”

Meerkat Moonship is a simple, yet flawed film by American standards, about friendship and taking risks. It’s not slick or cool. Instead, it’s sweet with heart. It harkens back to the old prairie stories of Little House and Tom Sawyer. If it were for the fact that it’s sub-titled, Meerkat Moonship would make a fantastic film to take your kids too (at least, make an attempt).

As Nettie, Anchen du Plessis gives a haunting, yet heart-warming performance. The entire film rests on her believable performance. Themba Htuli’s Bhubesi is cute and somewhat brief. His character is mute and quirky.

The only real problem is the mystery behind the Meerkat Moonship and why Bhubesi and Willem are building it. It’s predictable and you see it coming at the halfway mark. To confound the problem further, the film also moves at a slow-leisurely pace. In spite of these weaknesses, the film’s charm comes from du Plessis’ performance and makes the journey worth staying until the end. As predictable as it was, the ending jerked a few tears out of me.

Meerkat Moonship (Meerkat Maantuig) (2018) Written and directed by Hanneke Schutte. Starring Anchen du Plessis, Rika Sennett, Pierre van Pletzen, and Themba Ntuli.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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