The best movies from around the world draw on the strongest elements from their country's history, society and relationships, to come up with new concepts that make viewers cry, laugh and feel understood. Using an old, classic style of film-making, "Five Fingers For Marseilles" has done just this, and captured such a story in an insightful and powerful way.
Visually "Five Fingers For Marseilles" is a classic Western, but there is a lot more to this movie than simply gunslingers and rowdy men drinking in a bar. Over the backdrop of the tiny railway town of Marseilles, dominated by squatter camps where most people spend their days battling to make ends meet, "Five Fingers For Marseilles" speaks to South Africa's past, its present and its future, while also delivering a cracking action Western.
The film only hints at the issues it deals with. Rather than beat us to death with symbolism, it brushes over our history, telling a Western story that is uncomfortably familiar. While for the most part the colours, themes, and shots are all traditionally Western, there are hints throughout that this story is intended to be more than that.
The movie is imbued with the rich burnt effect associated with this genre of films, but a bright yellow car, symbolising the apartheid police van, reminds us this is a South African story. The will of the people was never broken.
The storyline deals with a small town, once suffering under hardship, now free, but threatened again. A single band of people come together to fight for their freedom. The classic Western themes are all present, and "Five Fingers For Marseille" uses them well to enhance the narrative. Viewed like this, the story from apartheid to freedom, followed by further threats of economic oppression, seems like a story ideal for adaptation into a Western.
On the surface this Western is, like all the good ones, about the battle between good and evil. Sepoko, The Ghost, is a perfect villain. He looms over this small town speaking in a tone and style that seems to indicate he is untouchable; superior. Those who oppressed the town before spoke in similar ways – a hint that the dangers facing SA now echo our cruel history. Perfectly played by Hamilton Dhlamini, he growls with a menace that makes "Suicide Squad"'s Joker look like an amateur.
On the other side are the the Five Fingers – a group of five friends who grew up together, witnessed the struggle in their town and swore an oath to defend the town from all forms of evil. The oppression they faced as youths forged a bond between them, and when evil once again threatens the town Tau, who is played by Vuyo Dabula, returns to the place of his upbringing to keep his promise.
Can the Five fFingers save the town? Can Tau overcome The Ghost? Is it possible for South Africa to be saved from the ills that beset it now on all sides? Will the people who fought for freedom once before be able to stand up and fight for it again?
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 just waiting to be explored.