2018 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES
A stranger wanders into town. His name is Tau. He’s seeking redemption. The town’s name is Marseilles. Marseilles is torn between a mayor that is weak and a powerful gang aiming to take over. The mayor is an old friend of Tau’s. So is the pastor. As is the sheriff. And the local girl that Tau used to love has had a son by his late brother. You’ve seen this story before. But, in FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES the story is transported to South Africa and that makes all the difference. With a change of setting, something we’ve seen a thousand times before is transformed into something fresh, modern, and edgy.
FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES is the debut feature from director Michael Matthews and it’s an impressive. It bears the marks of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and Quentin Tarantino, but has concerns about the past, present, and future of South Africa. The prologue deals with colonial remnants and apartheid with Tau and his friends, the Five Fingers, rebelling against the white oppressors. But, things go too far, and the reverberations echo to present. It’s an imported form that’s trying to make sense of contemporary struggles.
The western genre is also an opportunity to engage in some good old fashioned film making. FIVE FINGERS FROM MARSEILLES revels in its setting. The mountains loom over the town and the landscape appears to be as harsh as the gang that sets its sights on Marseilles. The widescreen compositions give the film and epic feel, even when the concerns are the soul of the community and people at the center.
Most of all, it’s a tremendously entertaining modern western. Vuyo Dabula as Tau is a compelling lead. And smart casting has an instantly memorable array of faces with the gang being an especially motley crew. The film has visual style. And the classic tropes build to exciting confrontations. Perhaps the climactic three way battle could use some more complication and development, especially after a long buildup that really demands something epic, but you would never know FIVE FINGERS FROM MARSEILLES is a first feature. It’s gorgeous, it crackles with energy, it has well drawn characters, it’s violence is visceral, and it has more than being just a genre exercise on its mind. It’s a strong film early on at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES plays twice more at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival on Monday, October 29 at 9:30 pm at the Times Cinema and on Wednesday, October 31 at 6:30 pm at the Times Cinema. If you’re a fan of westerns, it’s not to be missed.
The 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from October 18, 2018 to November 1, 2018. Information and tickets can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website.