Friday, 6 April 2018

Critic’s-Eye View: “Five Fingers for Marseilles”

A new Sesotho-language South Africa film, Five Fingers for Marseilles, opens today in local theatres. Much has been made on social media about the fact that it’s a western, updated and translated to a contemporary South African context, and it’s been sufficiently hyped by pundits and publicists to draw the attention of South African moviegoers. Here’s hoping for significant commercial successes.

Read The Back Row’s review of Five Fingers for Marseilles here.

Nikita Coetzee reviewed Five Fingers for Marseilles for the entertainment site Channel24, awarding it four stars out of five, and writing that she

struggled to imagine what a South African western would look like — in my mind picturing clichés like tumbleweeds, cowboy boots, and a sheriff who makes it known that he is in charger around these parts. Thankfully, I found none of that. The creators of this film did a fantastic job taking what many expect a western to be, and flipping it on its head. While there were still many elements of the classic western film, Five Fingers for Marseilles is so uniquely South African that midway through I stopped looking for the things that made it a western, and started looking out for the things that made it a good film.
That being said, if breathtaking cinematography is what you’re after, then this movie is definitely for you. Filmed in the Eastern Cape, it boasts beautiful visuals that are enough to keep the eyes of someone with a short attention span like myself entertained. In fact, had it not been for the amazing imagery, I may have found myself staring at my watch a few times as the slow pace of the film caused my mind to wander every now and again.

Emmanuel Tjiya reviewed the film for the Sowetan, awarding it eight out of ten, and declaring that

Genre-bending film Five Fingers for Marseilles … offers a scathing social narrative, endless gritty drama and sharp suspense that immediately positions it as one of the best local productions ever made. The fast-paced action film doesn’t waste any time in setting the conflict and torment. … The film hits all the right notes from the masterful cinematic techniques to the riveting screenplay and terrific ensemble cast. It is not just an action-packed popcorn thriller or visually exquisite film, but it’s also lined with powerful socio-political undercurrents happening in post-apartheid South Africa.
Helmed by director Michael Matthews and scripted by screenwriter Sean Drummond, for instance, the duo cleverly uses the western theme to depict various aspects that come into play when it comes to land rights. Perfect timing since land reform is such a hot debate in South Africa.

The SPL!NG movie review, by an unnamed reviewer, awards the film seven stars out of ten, averring that

The tough-as-nails attitude of this curious view of post-apartheid South Africa is underwritten by an experienced supporting cast … Five Fingers for Marseilles couldn’t have come at a better time, tipping the Stetson to current land reform issues, racial unrest, and the Zupta debacle, while leveraging some of the associated tension.

After praising the performances, the reviewer goes on to declare that

Five Fingers for Marseilles matches its level of performance, characters, and story with style. Filmed on location around the northern Eastern Cape village of Lady Gray, the western has some epic backdrops of mountains and high plains. The majestic natural setting gives it an otherworldliness, which makes it easier to simply accept wide brim hats, gun-toting bandits, horses, and taverns in Africa. The cinematography is another major selling point, giving Five Fingers a sweeping, poetic and epic feel, taking full advantage of the natural surroundings, localised attributes, and array of hardened faces. The grittiness is carried through by the production design, anchoring the western in African turf with wardrobe echoing this through local garments and fittings.

The movie blog BTG Lifestyle posted a video review of Five Fingers for Marseilles, which you can view here.

The YouTube reviewer NqanaweLIVE posted a video review of Five Fingers for Marseilles, which you can view here.

In the Sunday Times, Yolisa Mkele decides that there’s a more appropriate Hollywood genre to compare Five Fingers to Marseilles to:

It is easy to see why people who know about these things have decided that Five Fingers for Marseilles should be thought of as a western instead of a South African take on The Avengers. Those people are mistaken. … Thus the stage is set, the (dysfunctional) Five Fingers versus Sepoko in a battle for the fate of the universe, depicted here as Marseilles. The result is objectively thrilling. Through a combination of stunning cinematography, complex characters, and great performances, Five Fingers for Marseilles manages to become so engrossing that you hardly notice that you have chewed your finger down to the knuckle.

The Huffington Post South Africa’s video editor Pontsho Mabena has reviewed the film, writing that

The film only hints at the issues it deals with. Rather than beat us over the head with symbolism, it brushes over our history, telling a western story that is uncomfortably familiar. … Hopefully, this film is indicative of the kind of stories we can expect to come. It opens our minds to how we can tell the countless rich stories from South Africa’s past – and, more than that, it makes us ponder how many other of Africa’s stories are waiting to be explored.

Sipho Hlongwane wrote of the film in The Daily Vox that

The slow-burn pace of the film, coupled with eye-poppingly gorgeous cinematography and setting, gives it almost a dream-like feel. Shaun Lee’s intensely beautiful shots are matched only by the beauty of the landscape itself. … [The ending] is frustrating. But if this is really a parable for post-apartheid South Africa, then why should it end nicely? That would be dishonest. Look around you. This is a country of failures. There is little redemption to be found.

Kwanele Sosibo reviewed Five Fingers for Marseilles in the Mail & Guardian, coupling his praise with disappointment:

There is great cinematography in Five Fingers for Marseilles – but cinematography is pretty much all there is. The deliberate pacing, not to mention the long, lingering shots of the land (and interiors of bars), are a way of milking the best out of an existing formula. There are many scenes in which Five Fingers makes a pretence of suspense, with the action being drawn out, only for the directors to turn around and walk us back through it, using obvious cues that should ordinarily be subtle. … Yet you can’t help but be bewitched by the picture, which seems resolute in contrasting dark, atmospheric interiors with parched but picturesque views of the cliff faces of the Maluti Mountains. And the actors, even when they are hamming it up, have a strangely entertaining quality to them. … [Five Fingers] serves as a template that is to be improved upon.

Let me know of any other review of the film to be included here.

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