Triomf: The Cringe-worthy Tale of A Family You Can’t Stop Watching!

By Loi Awat,

Triomf follows the members of the dysfunctional Benade family in the neighborhood of Triomf (now Sophiatown) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Set just before the crucial 1994 general elections which saw Nelson Mandela take the presidency, this movie tells the jarring tale of a family that is captive to their Uncle Treppie’s mild manners and foul mouth, and young Lambert’s fiery temper and unstable behavior. Lambert’s parents, Mol and Pop, are often overtaken by the power play the young man and his uncle. Lambert’s 21st birthday is one day before the election, and Uncle Treppie pays Cleo – a prostitute – to visit Lambert on his birthday. Treppie announces to the family that Cleo is a nice Christian girl who is interested in Lambert, and that this is so that he can stop ‘stuffing’ his mother and have a real girl. Eager to walk into the new South Africa as a new man with Cleo, Lambert goes about preparing their run-down home for her visit.

Triomf takes travels around mid 90s Johannesburg with a series of montages showing the different races living in the neighborhood. It is a politically vibrant time, and we are treated to snippets of South African political chants and songs as the supporters of different political parties march around the streets. We are denied however, the knowledge of which political party the Benades support. As the elections draw closer, the Benades talk about leaving South Africa and heading North in the fear that once the apartheid rule is eliminated, all white settlers will be chased from their homes. They however do not express any political inclinations, and seem to be aloof to the elections.

When campaigners from a Dutch political party visit their home, for example, Uncle
Treppie is rude to them and sends them off running. This denies us the chance to
understand the position of these ‘white trash’ South Africans – unless of course, their position is to ignore politics altogether.

Triomf is a blend of incredibly interesting characters with erratic tendencies. While Uncle Treppie and Lambert is the more explicit pair, the highlight of this story was the understated Mol. Mol is the crutch of the family, supporting each one when they need her support; the all-suffering sister who has become accustomed to taking whatever she is given by the three men. She is far from a damsel – she is a strong woman, and does not break even when she loses her dog – seemingly the only sane character in the Benade household. Mol is a refreshing shift from the rudimentary pop-culture interpretation of what a strong woman should be. She does not have the popular ‘independent woman’ attitude, but she is indeed the strongest person in the family.

Triomf is a bit of an alarming story that unashamedly delves into sticky subjects like
incest, racism, class ism and politics, making you cringe while you eagerly wait to see what happens next. It realistically depicts a white family at the bottom of the Dutch socio-economic food chain in apartheid South Africa, drawing you closer to the big Election Day along with it. The hopes of the black people rise as those of the Benade family fall – a sweet juxtaposition in this sometimes-tragic-sometimes-funny tale.

Watch Triomf on Buni+


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