Movie Review: Five Fingers for Marseilles

Cast: Vuyo Dabula, Kenneth Nkosi, Warren Masemola, Zethu Dlomo

Director: Michael Matthews

Vuvu rating: 6/10

Five Fingers for Marseilles has made history as the first South African western film and is due to premiere in the US later this year. It is the first feature film by South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) acclaimed director, Michael Matthews.

The film, which opened on April 6, follows five young friends who fight against the brutality of the apartheid era police officers in their small rural hometown, Marseilles. One of them, Tau (Vuyo Dabula) kills two police officers and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. After his release he returns to Marseilles to find that the rest of the five have taken up prominent positions in the community.  A new threat has taken control of the town forcing a reluctant Tau to band together with the five friends once again to save Marseilles.

The film explores themes of friendship and betrayal. It provides sharp social commentary on corruption, colonisation, and land, making it particularly relevant given the current land reform debates. It’s also a visually stunning film. Matthews emphasises the natural beauty of the town and rural Eastern Cape where the movie was shot, through sweeping establishing shots used throughout the film.

The movie takes easily recognisable tropes from western films and gives them a South African twist. The classic western saloon is replaced by a shebeen. There are fast draw shootouts, outlaws, and cowboy hats and riding boots which are worn next to Basotho blankets. The effect is a refreshing take on an otherwise outdated genre.

Five Fingers benefits greatly from having a strong cast and there are standout performances from Dabula, the lead, and the talented Warren Masemola, who brings much needed life and energy to the film.

While the movie is a visual feast, the story is lacking. The convoluted plot line is difficult to follow, making the film’s gory climax more confusing than emotive. The film also falls back on the lazy South African convention of pretending that language barriers don’t exist, so white Afrikaans speaking police officers are able to perfectly understand seSotho and isiXhosa that are spoken by other characters.

Perhaps the biggest sin of Five Fingers is its female representation. Lerato (Zethu Dlomo), is given substantially less screen time than her male counterparts, despite being one of the titular five. She is used as a catalyst for the main plot and then not given much else to do until the very end.

Despite its flaws, Five Fingers for Marseilles is a film to see if one wants something local and different.

FEATURED IMAGE: A poster of Five Fingers for Marseilles which is being screened at Cinema Nouveau at the Rosebank Mall
Photo: Naledi Mashishi