A redemption tale in the Xhosa language that borrows tropes of the Western, set in an ambiguous part of the Eastern Cape, Five Fingers for Marseilles really does have an exciting premise. It’s particularly sad to say that, unfortunately, it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. The film simply tries to handle too many subjects at once, tackling each with very little finesse. Sean Drummond’s script touches on the long-lasting effects of violent revolution, corruption, masculinity and faith – all very briefly. It’s a scattered collection of moments, inconsistent and incohesive, with some admittedly great imagery along the way.
The film starts with the protagonist Tau’s (Zethu Dlomo) childhood; this hot-headed boy wishes to “be strong” and take his town back from the white colonialists who moved them out to make way for the railway – the village he lives in is simply known as ‘Railway’ due to it being made up of workers. A violent confrontation leads Tau to flee his home, only returning to his village and the neighbouring town Marseilles 15 years later.
The film is at its most interesting when exploring the dynamic between Tau’s old childhood friends; mostly resentful of Tau due to his abandonment of them in their time of need. Unfortunately these moments are overshadowed by the rest of the plot, which involves a particularly hokey, deep-voiced gangster known as ‘The Ghost’, a corrupt police force, and an annoying drunk Afrikaner named John. The cast becomes increasingly superfluous as the film goes on, resulting in moments that just don’t have any impact – an awkwardly-staged final showdown and a silly ending adding to the disappointment.
Despite a unique setting, occasional flashes of brilliance and beautiful photography, Five Fingers for Marseilles eventually buckles under its own weight, as its narrative continually overreaches.
CAST: Zethu Dlomo, Kenneth Fok, Garth Breytenbach, Warren Masemola
DIRECTOR: Michael Matthews
WRITER: Sean Drummond
SYNOPSIS: Twenty years ago, the young ‘Five Fingers’ fought for the rural town of Marseilles, against brutal police oppression. Now, after fleeing in disgrace, freedom-fighter-turned-‘outlaw’ Tau returns to Marseilles, seeking only a peaceful pastoral life. When he finds the town under new threat, he must reluctantly fight to free it.