By Teo Bugbee
Sept. 6, 2018
Five teenage boys stand in a circle, each pointing a slingshot at the others. The camera follows their glances as they look to see who will betray the stillness. For fans of Sergio Leone, this setup may seem familiar, but the standoff takes place in compellingly undiscovered country, where the rule of genre is as malleable as the rule of the law.
These boys are the Five Fingers, a ragtag posse concerned with the protection of their hometown. Instead of Death Valley, their home is Railway, an abandoned shantytown on the outskirts of Marseilles, South Africa. The strongest among this band of youthful rebels is Tau, who kills two white police officers and runs for the hills, leaving the fate of Railway to the rest of the Five Fingers.
Apartheid ends during the 20 years it takes Tau (a charismatic Vuyo Dabula) to return to Railway, but the promise of a world without subjugation is not realized in his absence. Tau finds that the post-apartheid rebels have become politicians, police and pawns under the thumb of a homegrown opportunist.
Though the story serves as a critique of modern South African politics, the white South African director Michael Matthews uses his visual style to emphasize mythology over anthropology. Colors, costumes and cinematography err to the imaginative and allegorical, keeping the commentary crisp. Here, saloon doors are blazoned with crosses, villains wear white shawls instead of black hats and freedom fighters shoot peashooters rather than pistols. In stylish and entertaining fashion, “Five Fingers for Marseilles” looks over the South African countryside and finds fresh vistas for the western genre.
Five Fingers for Marseilles NYT Critic's Pick
Director Michael Matthews
Writer Sean Drummond
Stars Zethu Dlomo, Garth Breytenbach, Kenneth Fok, Dean Fourie, Kenneth Nkosi
Running Time 2 hours
Genres Drama, Thriller, Western