What the ongoing IFFK 2019 offers this year for film buffs

IFFK 2019 | 'Fiela’s Child': White, black and the multiple layers in between

In the deep forest when Benjamin insists that Fiela Komoetie is his mother, Nina tells him her ‘Pa’ says Benjamin cannot have a coloured mother. Elias van Rooyen, who is ‘Pa,’ shares the same belief of a magistrate and census officials seen earlier in the movie – Benjamin, a white child, brought up by mixed-race Fiela, cannot be Fiela’s child.

Racial prejudice

Fiela’s Child, a South African film in the competition section of the IFFK, is a tale of maternal love but also of deep-set racial prejudice and how rules and lack of empathy unjustly tear a family apart.

Adapted by the director into a movie from a book by Dalene Matthee, Fiela’s Child is set in the late 1800s, away from the traditional Apartheid narrative. Benjamin, a toddler, is found by Fiela outside her house and raised as her own, along with her four children.

Nine years later, census officials who come to the house are shocked that a white child is living with a coloured family. Soon, the magistrate decides that he must go and live with the van Rooyen family for he is their long-lost son Lukas. Lukas struggles to adjust with the van Rooyens though they are white just as he is. His companion is the van Rooyens’ daughter Nina.

Visuals bring out the contrast between Fiela’s family and the van Rooyens who are supposedly Benjamin’s or rather Lukas’s real family.

The stark and unforgiving landscape where Fiela brings up her family is juxtaposed with the forest where the van Rooyens work as woodcutters. Though both families live in a rural setting, they could not be more different. While Fiela’s family is warm and loving, the van Rooyens are a miserable lot, with Elias ruling them with an iron fist.

Worlds apart

The clean and washed Komoeties are nothing like the dirty and unkempt van Rooyens. The pain of separation runs throughout the film. Young Benjamin, unable to understand why he has been handed over to another family, tries to make his way back to Fiela.

She, on the other hand, travels to town hoping to get the magistrate to see his mistake. His threats force her to retreat, but she determines to appeal to the van Rooyens to get Benjamin back. Eliaspushes her down and repeatedly kicks her, till she is forced to leave.

Fiela’s love for Benjamin does not leave her family untouched. Her son tells Benjamin that his leaving broke her. The family feels deprived of her attention; there are a couple of moments when Tollie, Fiela’s son, shouts at her, disrupting the quiet of Fiela’s household.


Race and discrimination form the backdrop of the film. Fiela addresses not only the magistrate as ‘master’ but also Elias when she meets him on her quest to have Benjamin back. Benjamin, raised in a mixed race environment, addresses the first white man he sees as ‘master.’

Told with honesty, Fiela’s Child is a simply told but layered film that leaves one moved.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 2:38:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/iffk-2019-fielas-child-white-black-and-the-multiple-layers-in-between/article30240174.ece

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