Movie Review: Sew The Winter to my Skin

Directed by: Jahmil X.T Qubeka

Starring: Ezra Mabengeza, Zolisa Xaluva, Mandisa Nduna, Kandyse McClure

Genre: Western

Vuvu rating: 6/10

“Sew the Winter to My Skin” (2018), which was put forward as South Africa’s Foreign Language entry to the 2019 Academy Awards, is a movie that uses classic western tropes and mythology to tell its story. The movie is set in 1940s Western Cape, South Africa, and tells the story of real-life John Kepe, known as ‘the Samson of the Boschberg’ who notoriously stole food and livestock from nearby farms until 1951 when he was convicted of killing a shepherd named Dirk Goliath and sentenced to death.

Director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka chooses to tell the story with minimal dialogue, leaving the narrative heavily dependent on visual clues and the musical score. Rather than focus on the life of Kepe, Qubeka focuses more on the myth and presents Kepe as a Robin Hood type figure who steals live sheep from the farm of Nazi-sympathizer and failing sheep farmer, Mr Botha, and gives them to his poor community.  The audience is treated to scenes of Kepe narrowly dodging bullets from white farmers in pursuit of him, hanging off the side of a cliff while carrying a sheep, and hiding in a well-kitted out secret cave.

Qubeka uses Kepe as a lens to tell the wider story of Apartheid and racial oppression. The movie explores the tensions between the white Afrikaaner farmers who are quick to use violence to cement their power, and the poor black communities near them who face the brunt of it. Kepe then emerges as a symbol of black resistance. The movie ends with Verwoed’s description of Apartheid as a “policy of good neighbourliness” and the stark irony of this quote is explored throughout the film.

The lack of dialogue can at times make the movie unclear. It also means that character’s motivations are unexplored, and they are left as two-dimensional caricatures. This is most obvious with Zolisa Xaluva’s depiction of the villain, who is a black man that carries out racial violence against other black people, and the women in the film, who are given little to do other than cry in pain.

While it is beautifully shot, the Western-style film sacrifices clear storytelling for flair which may make it inaccessible to many. It is also at times, quite violent given its 13 age restriction. Audiences who enjoy arthouse-type movies will greatly appreciate the layered storytelling, symbolism, and interesting cinematic techniques of this film.

FEATURED IMAGE: Sew the winter to my skin is South Africa’s entry to the 2019 Academy Awards
Photo: Provided

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