Monday, August 9, 2010

Faith Like Potatoes

First of all, I’m not a fan of Christian movies. Over the years, I have had a difficult time finding a Christian movie that I believe is capable of speaking to a broader audience than just the Church. I guess that’s why I put off watching Faith Like Potatoes for some time. I had picked it up several months ago in the discount bin of a local video store. After running out of excuses, I finally gave it a spin in my DVD player.

Would the movie be capable of not committing the fatal error that most Christian movies make, which is putting the message or an agenda ahead of telling an interesting and compelling story. Most good filmmakers realize that filmmaking is first and foremost an art form. Unfortunately, Faith Like Potatoes runs the Christian playbook to a tee. It makes every handoff and completes every pass.

First, it offers a conversion scene, a complete representation of the plan of salvation, prayer, miracles, spiritual laws and, finally, we see our protagonist leading someone to salvation. I know it’s based on a true story, but it feels like someone had a checklist and was marking off each item as the film rolled on.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, it’s a story of Angus Buchan played by Frank Rautenbach, who is a Zambian farmer that is forced off of his land with his family in the midst of political unrest. He travels to neighboring South Africa to start a new life. He must face hardships, personal turmoil and other challenges to build a life for himself and his family. He must also overcome depression, fear, anger, and frustration. Ultimately, he accepts Christ, finds purpose in his life, and commits himself to preaching the Word.

Let me start with what I like about the film. It’s refreshing that this is a South African movie. That alone makes it interesting and different. The cinematography and the landscapes are beautiful and stunning. The acting is solid and believable. It’s a good-looking film with solid productions values.

What’s troubling with Faith Like Potatoes is that it feels disconnected. I never felt like I understood what motivated Angus or, for that matter, what made him so angry. All the other characters feel like they’re just add-ons or props. Angus is angry and upset about life. But because this is a PG movie, we never really see him lose control. He’s just shouting and throwing his arms around. The critical stage of the film when he accepts Christ feels a little empty because we don’t understand what led him to make that decision. Soon afterwards he makes a decision to preach the Gospel. Again, every decision seems to be unjustified with no reason or emotional tie-ins. From this point, the movie is just a collection of random events that seem to have no focus. What’s really missing in this film is a central conflict. There’s nothing driving the story forward.

Obviously, the main theme of this film is faith—faith to believe that God can do anything, including growing potatoes in a drought. I understand what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. I’m just not sure the audience is willing to accept the journey to its conclusion. Most Evangelical, conservative Christians will probably find this film enjoyable. Other Christians looking for something a little more engaging or substance-based may be able to tolerate it. I’m not sure nonbelievers would have any interest whatsoever.

What I find really odd about this film is that it takes place primarily in the 1970s and 1980s during the time of enormous upheaval in South Africa. But it’s never addressed in the film or incorporated into the story.

It’s never easy telling somebody’s life story, especially when it involves salvation and faith. It’s a tricky combination to pull off. It would have made more sense if they had focused on one aspect on Angus’ life and journey. Perhaps, it would have been more interesting to focus on Angus’ earlier life before his conversion. If we could only understand the man and what drove him, this would have been far more interesting, at least for me.

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