Five Fingers For Marseilles
A South African Western Thriller
The Boer police who live in Marseilles, South Africa, go up the hill to the shantytown called Railway to extort and harass the black railway workers and their families that live there. A group of teenagers called the Five Fingers have banded together to protect Railway with slingshots and rocks. When one of their group gets arrested by the police and driven away in their van, Tau, the strongest of the group, chases after the car and causes it to tumble and crash. He shoots and kills two of the police officers, and runs away from Railway to leave the rest of the Five Fingers with the consequences of his actions.
‘Five Fingers of Marseilles’ is a Spaghetti Western-inspired film set in South Africa, with elements of contemporary melodrama and social critique of post-Apartheid South Africa. In his feature film debut, Director Michael Matthews delivers a slow burn drama full of righteous violence, shootouts, stunning landscapes and intriguing characters.
Two decades after he shoots the police officers, Tau (Buyo Dabula) is an outlaw recently released from prison with a bad reputation as the violent Lion from Marseilles. He vows to stop fighting, and returns to Railway and the newly developed New Marseilles. Although he tries to keep a low profile, his reputation precedes him and he is drawn into a violent struggle for the soul of both Railway and New Marseilles.
Members of the former Five Fingers have gone from protecting their town to becoming oppressors, with Bongani becoming the corrupt Mayor of New Marseilles, supported by the ruthless Luyanda as Chief of Police. They all blame Tau and his actions twenty years ago for what they have become, so they are hostile to his return. The return of the crime boss, Sepoko, also known as the Ghost, tips the tension between the Five Fingers into violence and chaos. Cue guns, fire, torture and standoffs.
Hamilton Dlamini delivers a standout performance as the mysterious and ghostly Sepoko. His voice is the classic slow drawl from Western films, reinvigorated by the fact that he is speaking an old poetic version of Sotho. He is draped in white, with a mouth full of gold teeth, and his presence as a truly chaotic villain is magnetic. Both humans and nature tremble as he recounts his origin story: his mother was struck by lightning when she was pregnant, and he clawed out of her charred body.
Overall, it is a spectacular film, but ambitious in its narrative scale. There is enough in the story for two films, and I would love to have seen how the members of the Five Fingers developed into corrupt and spiteful men. Five Fingers for Marseilles is a stunning contemporary take on a classic film genre.
Five Fingers for Marseilles screened in November 2018 at the Africa On Screen Festival in Melbourne, Australia.