‘Black Butterflies’ movie honours poet Ingrid Jonker, good for Cape Town tourism!


The just-released (in South African cinemas) internationally-produced movie ‘Black Butterflies’, about the life and death of South Africa’s Sestiger poet Ingrid Jonker, is a contrast between the most beautiful Cape Town scenery, and the dark days of our political past and the unhappy life of this talented writer.   The movie location is identified as Cape Town, and should attract international movie-goers to our beautiful city.

Dutch actress Carice van Houten and actor Rutger Hauer, who both don’t get the South African English pronunciation perfectly correct, play Jonker and her father, respectively.  The movie tells the unhappy story of how Jonker’s mother died when she and her sister were young children, were sent to stay with their grandmother, and sent back to their ‘Pa’ when she passed away.  He was a severe and critical father, and Member of Parliament, heading up the Publications Control Board, and ironically even her book of poems had to be vetted by him and his Board. They were never close, and it was his rejection of her that probably led to the sad end to her life.  Desperate to find love, she had relationships with great writers such as Jack Cope, Uys Krige, Jan Rabie, and André Brink.  The movie weaves the political history of the country in the ‘Sixties into the story, and ends with the reading of her poem “Die Kind wat Doodgeskiet is deur Soldate in Nyanga” in English by the then newly inaugurated President Nelson Mandela at the opening of Parliament in 1994.  He called her ‘one of the finest poets of our country’.  Ex-President Thabo Mbeki awarded the Silver Order of Ikhamanga to Jonker posthumously, for her contribution to literature and human rights.

The movie was shot in March and April last year, and contains the most beautiful beach and sea shots at Llandudno, and Cape Town generally is the location for the movie, with the exception of a few scenes shot in Amsterdam. Other Cape Town locations are the playgrounds and the Promenade in Sea Point, Clifton’s Second Beach (where Cope and Krige shared a bungalow), Bo-Kaap, Table Mountain, Chapman’s Peak, Strandfontein, and Noordhoek Beach. The movie ends with Jonker walking into the sea at Three Anchor Bay in July 1965, becoming our country’s Sylvia Plath.

The movie is a co-production between the German Comet Film GmbH and South African Spier Productions (Pty) Limited, with post-production done by Bavaria Films in Germany. The name of the movie comes from the line in one of Jonker’s poems: “For the sun that I now cover forever with black butterflies”. While Jonker wrote her precious poetry in Afrikaans, the movie has the English translations, for practical purposes. Paula van der Oest is an Oscar-nominated director from Holland, reports the Cape Argus.  She loved the work of Jonker, and wanted to expose it to a larger audience.  South African actor Graham Clarke, playing Krige, does not do a believable Afrikaans-speaking-English accent. Irish actor Liam Cunningham is a most sympathetic Cope, whose relationship with Jonker dominates the movie.  Oddly, André Brink is not mentioned by name in the movie, even though the movie notes outside the cinema refer to his name. Brink is called ‘Eugene Maritz’ in the movie, played by local Nicholas Pauling.   Brink’s book A Fork in the Road contains an overview of Jonker’s life, and her effect on his life.

‘Black Butterflies’, Cinema Nouveau, Cavendish Square.  See the movie trailer here.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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2 replies on “‘Black Butterflies’ movie honours poet Ingrid Jonker, good for Cape Town tourism!”

  1. Simone says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the Black Butterflies write – up I live in Hermanus and will pop in sometime to say hi.
    Simone (Jonker)

  2. I would love to meet you Simone – it would be a great honour. I can see your e-mail address, and will mail when next I get to Hermanus.


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