Search - Proteus on DVD

Actors: Rouxnet Brown, Shaun Smyth, Neil Sandilands, Kristen Thomson, Tessa Jubber
Directors: Jack Lewis, John Greyson
Genres: Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2004     1hr 37min

As beautiful and lush as the flower after which it is named, PROTEUS is an exquisite, romantic period piece that skillfully explores the intersections of sex, race and politics. Set in South Africa in the eighteenth centur...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Rouxnet Brown, Shaun Smyth, Neil Sandilands, Kristen Thomson, Tessa Jubber
Directors: Jack Lewis, John Greyson
Creators: Jack Lewis, John Greyson, Anita Lee, Damon D'Oliveira
Genres: Drama, Gay & Lesbian, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, Gay & Lesbian, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Strand Releasing
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Letterboxed - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 12/07/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 37min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Grappling with History: A Plea for Understanding and Respect
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 03/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"PROTEUS is a valiant film made on a very small budget in a shooting period of 18 days filmed on location on Robben Island in South Africa, the location of the historical trial of two gay men in 1735 and the place where Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

Writers and directors John Greyson and Jack Lewis have studied the documents of the trial that resulted in the execution of Rijkhaart Jacobsz (Neil Sandilands) and Claas Blank (Rouxnet Brown), two men who were imprisoned on Robben Island from 1718 and 1735. Jacobsz was a Dutch sailor from Amsterdam, sentenced for homosexuality and Blank was a Hottentot sentenced to 10 years hard labor for a crime he did not commit. The two meet, share food, and fall in love, and live in a gay relationship for years (in reality 17 years but for the purposes of the film, 10 years). Blank earns money from a botanist Virgil Niven (Shaun Smythe), a scientist who fled from Amsterdam to South Africa to study and cultivate Proteus plants, in fear of returning to Amsterdam because of a change in the milieu for gay acceptance.

Jacobsz and Blank are eventually caught en flagrante, arrested, tortured, and when Jacobsz finally admits to their affair, Blank (who is under the protection of his 'guardian' Niven and therefore has the possibility of pardon) acquiesces because of his devotion to Jacobsz and the two are taken to sea where they are drowned as execution.

The film is raw and while there is little in the way of depiction of sexual encounters, there is much to show the difficult life and mode of existence on Robben Island prison. In part because of the desire to capture on site this moment in South African history and in part simply due to the idiosyncratic choices of the directors, the film places portions of the pictorialization in contemporary times (jeeps, mouthy 1960s' dressed female court stenographers, altered costumes for some of the characters, etc). For this reviewer these were not distractions but instead lent a sense of timelessness to this historical tale: little has changed in many of the courts' views about gay relationship.

As an added very important and informative feature of this DVD there is a radio broadcast interview of Greyson and Lewis by a San Jose, CA NPR radio station. In the interview many of the intricacies of the plot of the film are explained as are many of the implications of the tainted court decision which allowed the long-term relationship between Jacobsz and Blank to proceed for many years unfettered until politics raised its ugly head.

The film is in Africaans, English, Dutch, and some Hottentot language and the subtitles are fairly inadequate to follow the line of the story. The musical score is simple and supportive (one other idiosyncrasy is the moment of playing Mozart on a portable stereo in a wealth home ...). The overall effect of honesty and devotion to the cause of enlightening the audience to the plight of repressed peoples is very touching: any flaws become slight in the presence of this kind of filmmaking. Grady Harp, March 05."
Amazing homoerotic film that deserves to be seen
C. Ray | New York | 11/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film played to a soldout audience at the Hamptons International Film Festival and I didn't meet a soul who did not love this film. I've been anxiously awaiting a commercial release, but looks like it is now on DVD. "Proteus" is odd (the timeline zig-zags centuries and can be confusing, much the way Derek Jarman's "Edward II" plays with your sense of time) but the film maker explained he wanted to shoot the film on the actual island where it took place, Robbins Island, which is the very same place Nelson Mandella spent 30 years in prison. He noted that he couldn't avoid the 20th Century intrusions, so he just let them be part of the story. The film is very dense in its images and levels, such as the three women court stenographers/translators who are plucked out of the 60s. They struggle to translate the actual 17th century court case transcripts from Dutch, Afrikan and English, and the time period of course reflects when Mandella was sentenced to prison. The sex scenes between the two leads are fantastically photographed without be graphic in the least, and the ending is noble and moving. This is a film for anyone into serious gay film."
A Movie For All Seasons
H. F. Corbin | ATLANTA, GA USA | 03/29/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"According to the radio interview the directors Jack Lewis and John Greyson gave that is included on the DVD, they shot PROTEUS in 18 days with not a lot of money. Although the film is a little rough around the edges and there is one shot too many of closeups of flowers, what these directors have produced is well worth seeing and has a scary but necessary message. History, if we are not careful, repeats itself. Racism and homophobia have been around for far, far too long. Those individuals who believe in diversity should be ever vigilant. Today's hard-won freedoms may be gone tomorrow.

Based on true events from 1735, a black man from South Africa and a white from the Netherlands meet in a prison camp and have a relationship for seventeen years although their affair is shortened to ten years in the movie. Their love for each other possesses them although they do not have a name for what they are experiencing. The officials know of their relationship almost from its beginning but look the other way for a number of years.

Although these events took place in the 18th century, when for a time parts of Holland appear to be as liberal today (the Homomonument honoring the gay people who died in the Holocaust is located in Amsterdam), we should never forget the strides that gay people had made in Germany just before the rise of Hitler nor the attitudes of the Religious Right in the United States today.

A movie well worth watching."
A Zealous Film maker Shoots for the Stars...................
(Mr.) N. Sean Wright | Whiteville, NC USA | 08/08/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)

.......but lands about as high as a pothole in hell.

This movie could have been spectacular. The subject matter in itself is incredible; there was no need for abstract artistic embellishments. What results for the viewer is a cesspool of poorly filtered facts, annoying translations (and attempts at translations), basement-budget cinematography, and bizarre blendings of time and space. The lead actors are fairly good in their craft, but they're cast into a horrible retelling of a rather interesting historical event.

I wish that this movie could be remade with a less "artistically innovative" agenda. I'm pretty sure that very few people have ever known about this obscure incident in history, but it's a great story and definitely worthy of being told. However, the makers of this film lent no justice to the cause.

Since the plot has already been discussed in other reviews here, I don't see the need to address in mine. The eroticism is suttle and innocent, rather than blatant or objectionable. For those who are allured by erotic content and expect anything close to pornography, be advised that such content is extremely minimal, to the lowest degree. The nudity is PG-13 in only one scene and if you blink during the scene, you can reduce the rating of the whole film down to PG, because all that's left is simulated sensuality throughout the remainer of the movie. If you are not deterred by that fact, the movie is solid, except for absurd interludes that pop up here and there.

I was very excited by everything I had read about "Proteus" before I actually saw it. I'm still hoping that another talented filmmaker will pick up the gauntlet and give the proper recognition that this lesser known moment in history deserves."