Directed by Ian Gabriel
Quanita Adams - Sannie Grootboom
Zane Meas - Hendrik Grootboom
Lionel Newton - Luke
- Tertius Coetzee
Country: South Africa
Duration: 115 min
Filming Locations: Johannesburg,
Cannes Film Festival 2003
Tertius Coetzee is 42 years old. He lives in a one-roomed flat and works as a store-man at a motor vehicle assembly plant
in Port Elizabeth. Two years ago he resigned from the South African Police after giving evidence at the Truth and Reconciliation
Hearings. He has recently been granted amnesty for crimes committed in the name of Apartheid but there is still something
weighing heavily upon his soul – the family of one of the victims he 'eliminated' did not come forward during the hearings
and, for Coetzee, forgiveness remains incomplete.
Our story begins….Tertuis Coetzee drives into the windswept town of Paternoster on the West Coast of South Africa.
He checks into a cheap B&B and starts making inquiries as to the whereabouts of the Grootboom family. Using the local
Dominee (Priest) as a go-between he has his first encounter with the Grootboom family, which goes terribly badly. The father
(Hendrik) is a fisherman, barely able to support his wife (Magda), eldest daughter (Sannie) and youngest son (Ernest). The
last thing they want is for the past to be dug up. Sannie is especially angry. She’s a good-looking woman who was about
to marry her childhood sweetheart when her eldest brother (Daniel) was found mutilated and murdered. The experience so soured
her life that she withdrew from the world and has never loved since.
Sannie goes to the post office and makes a call to Johannesburg, informing Llewellyn Meintjies that Tertius Coetzee,
the murderer, is in Paternoster asking for forgiveness. Llewellyn and two of his comrades were the reason Daniel was tortured
to death – the police were trying to get their names and addresses out of Daniel but he wouldn’t talk, and the
police, specifically Coetzee, went too far. Llewellyn tells Sannie to do whatever she can to keep Coetzee in Paternoster,
so that he’ll be there with the others in three or four days 'to sort him out'.
Sannie’s change in attitude takes everyone by surprise. She encourages her family to give Coetzee a chance –
perhaps the man is genuine. With reluctance Hendrik asks the Dominee to invite Coetzee to share afternoon tea with them the
At first, not a lot is said during tea. Ernest sits in the corner doing 'sums' in an old school exercise book. Magda
expresses her great regret that they could never afford a headstone for Daniel’s grave. Coetzee asks Magda what she
would put on her son’s headstone. She writes it down on a piece of paper and hands it to him. Hendrik says nothing –
he can barely make eye contact with the murderer. Sannie is her usual silent self. Coetzee asks Ernest what he’s doing.
Ernest comes over and shows Coetzee some calculations – if Daniel were alive today and working as an engineer, which
is what he was studying before he was murdered, he would’ve earned over two million Rand by now. Less living expenses
of…say a million, does Coetzee have the balance in his bank account so that he can give it to the Grootboom family?
Ernest doubts it. Tea is almost over when Sannie asks the dreaded question: 'Can you tell us truthfully how Daniel actually
died?' Hendrik and Magda don’t want to hear but both Coetzee and the Dominee think that perhaps it would help the process
of reconciliation. Coetzee begins to tell them how Daniel was picked up walking home from university, how he was taken to
a farm outside Cape Town, how he was tortured, beaten, burned, electrocuted, half-drowned…. Ernest suddenly grabs the
teapot and shatters it against the side of Coetzee’s head. Blood flows. Coetzee does not move or even defend himself
– he understands and accepts Ernest’s anger. Sannie holds a towel to Coetzee’s head as the Dominee drives
him to the hospital in Vredenburg. His wound is stitched and a bandage is wrapped around his head, not unlike a halo.
That evening Sannie visits Coetzee at the B&B to apologize. They go for a walk along the beach. It is here that Sannie
begins to wonder if perhaps Coetzee really is genuine. He tells her about his ex-wife, how she left him after finding out
about all the ugly things he was doing in the name of Apartheid. He is not looking for sympathy from Sannie, just a bit of
understanding, perhaps. His life is now so empty it doesn’t matter what happens to him.
Sannie tries to call Llewellyn but he’s already left to pick up his two comrades. Now she’s worried.
The Dominee arrives at the Grootboom house with an invitation from Coetzee to join him for Sunday roast at the hotel.
Coloured people don’t ever eat at the hotel – only white people eat there. The Dominee reassures them that it
will be alright, that Apartheid is gone, that it’s only tradition that says white people eat at the hotel.
Lunch is sumptuous. The colored waitresses, all friends of Sannie’s, cannot stop giggling while serving the Grootboom
family. After asking for silence, Coetzee announces that he has ordered a headstone from the mortuary in Vredenburg, that
it will be delivered on Monday to the Paternoster graveyard with the exact words Magda wanted engraved on it, that it’s
the least he can do for the family. Magda begins to cry. More wine flows. Hendrik begins to unwind, talking, reminiscing about
Daniel and what a wonderful boy he was, how they would go fishing together, the nights when they braai-ed crayfish on the
beach under the moon and the stars. Ernest, too, begins warming towards Coetzee, not to mention Sannie, a flush colouring
her cheeks as she catches his twinkling eye. It is early evening by the time Coetzee bids the Grootboom family good night.
Sannie walks with him back to his B&B. The night air is crisp, their arms touching as they walk side-by-side. Coetzee
tells Sannie that she is a beautiful woman, that she should be in love, that he knows how awful it is to be out of love. Her
flushed face betrays her feelings. She cannot be with him a moment longer. She turns and walks quickly away. Coetzee calls
after her but she keeps on going.
Sannie stops at the post office and calls Llewellyn’s house, asking for the telephone numbers of his two comrades.
She tries to dial one of the numbers but she runs out of coins. She goes to the closest house and asks for change but the
people have nothing. The next house is dark, the occupants sleeping. She sees the light on in Coetzee’s bedroom at the
B&B and runs towards it. Coetzee sees her coming and thinks she wants him. He goes outside to meet her, taking her in
his arms. They kiss, Sannie crying, confused. She tells Coetzee about Llewellyn, that he’s coming to kill him. This
act of confession draws them closer. Sannie begs Coetzee to leave immediately but he can’t – he will wait until
the headstone has been delivered and only then will he leave.
The three 'Angels of Death' drive relentlessly on to Paternoster.
The headstone is delivered to the graveyard. The Grootboom family, Coetzee and the Dominee are there to unveil it. The
Dominee is in the middle of a prayer about forgiveness when Llewellyn and his two comrades finally arrive. They remain seated
in their car, unable to perform the act of revenge. Eventually Coetzee goes over to the car and asks them to join in the prayer.
One by one they join the group around the grave. The prayer over, Coetzee asks the Dominee to take the family home. Sannie
doesn’t want to leave but Coetzee tells her everything is as it should be. She leaves in tears. Coetzee climbs into
his car but doesn’t drive off. He waits, and waits, silently asking the “Angels of Death” for closure. The
angels oblige, each of them firing a single bullet into his body.
The epitaph on the headstone reads: 'He Died that we may be Free'.
What transpires is a series of revelations, as Sannie begins to doubt her feelings of anger toward Coetzee, and tries
to notify Llewellyn and his intense comrades to turn back. But the angels of death are committed to slaying the soldier that
stole their friend’s life. And so begins a race against the clock where salvation could be fatal! .