Five Fingers for Marseilles – A Sober Review

Five Fingers For Marseilles

I’m not aware of any other Westerns set in post-apartheid South Africa. Maybe that’s an ignorance on my part. If Michael Matthew’s Five Fingers for Marseilles gets the attention it deserves, however, I have little doubt that we’ll be seeing more.

From the outset, Five Fingers for Marseilles wears its Western credentials on its sleeve, as five young boys re-enact the climax of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, catapults replacing revolvers. When they cycle home, the scene is shot as if they are riding horses (incidentally, the adult Tau is later revealed not to be able to ride a horse). This is not the only nod to other films made by Matthews, as he happily references Stand by Me and A Fistful of Dollars (or Yojimbo).

Five Fingers For Marseilles Group Picture
The Five Fingers, as children

The dichotomous nature of Matthews’s South Africa is summed up perfectly here. From the beautifully shot, vast, open, spaces of the desert, the children return to the grim reality of the shanty town of Railway. Matthews knows how to emphasise the personality of his locations.

Railway is the town built up around the station that was to service Marseilles, a town that seems to exist solely as a billboard for a fruit farm that was never built, an image that is often repeated. As a result, Railway is something of a ghost town, waiting for a reason to exist.

Night seems to arrive the moment they return. The following day, so too do the police – oppressive bureaucrats, whose arrogance and failure to see that their actions will have consequences, leads Tau (played as a youth by Toka Mtabane, and it must be said, the child actors, all of whom are local, are fantastic), the Lion, to murder. He flees the scene, leaving his bicycle lying on the rails. The title card separates childhood from adulthood, it signifies the dramatic change in the political landscape of South Africa and it destroys the dynamic that the friends once had.

Tau's New Life as a Bandit
Tau’s New Life as a Bandit

After a bungled robbery followed by a late night conversation, about settling down, with his new partners in crime (Anthony Oseyemi and Brendon Daniels as Congo and Slim Sixteen respectively), the adult Tau (Vuyo Dabula) resolves to hang up his pistol. After a period incarcerated (and it is suggested that this was his choice), he returns to a much changed Railway. In order to keep Marseilles, now a functioning town, safe, Mayor Bongani (Kenneth Nkos) has sacrificed Railway, giving Sepoko (Hamilton Dhlamini) free reign there.

Marseilles is a reflection of Railway prior to the end of apartheid. In a scene that mirrors the protection racket run by the white South African government, the Marseilles police force demand protection money from the Chinese store owner – some of those that were once oppressed are now oppressors.

Five Fingers for Marseilles - The Marseilles Police Force
The Marseilles Police Force

Tau’s attempts to reintegrate himself quietly into Railway are unsuccessful – he is not able to stand by whilst Honest John (Dean Fourie), the sole white inhabitant of Railway, is bullied by Sepoko’s thugs. His pride is too strong for him to bow his head to Sepoko. From here, he is dragged into a fight he wants no part of, but one that it could be argue that only exists because he fled Railway.

Five Fingers for Marseilles - Thuto
Thuto (Warren Masemulo)

Other than the all too human Tau, there are many strong performances in Five Fingers for Marseilles, from the rasping, otherworldly Sepoko, whose every word drips menace and Thuto, his spiteful lieutenant, to the beaten dog Honest John, Dean Fourie drawing favourable comparisons with John Hurt. Lerato (Zethu Dlomo), rather than being the bright, happy girl it is suggested she will grow into, is worn down, a victim of Bongani’s abandonment of Railway, Tau’s abandonment of his friends, and hers and her father’s stubborn refusal to move to Marseilles.

Five Fingers for Marseilles - Lerato
Five Fingers for Marseilles – Lerato

When all is said and done, however, Five Fingers for Marseille is very much a spaghetti western. It is more than happy to use the tropes of the genre. The citizens of Railway are beaten, whipped. Tau is tortured, fallible, but strong. Sepoko’s gang are vicious and remorseless. There is no attempt to redefine the genre, there are no attempts to be overly clever. The genre is a broad enough playing field for the film, and Five Fingers for Marseilles deserves to sit amongst the best of them.

Five Fingers for Marseilles is released on September 7th.


Sober Edit – There are a load of spoilers in this. A bloody load.

I assume this is about the current weather in the UK. Seriously, we had a Sports Day at work (my first in what, 27 years) and I’m sure I had a dose of heat stroke. Anyway, no bottle of wine tonight, as I had a few beers and ciders earlier, so it’s just more cider.

Every time I hear the Netflix sting, I think of the DJ Yoda Stranger Things  mix tape.

First shot looks like it’s from the Archillect twitter account.

“You think you know your beautiful wife.”

The alien gun sound effects sound like a kid’s toy.

There’s a new spooky wind sound in my house.

So is this in the future? They didn’t make it obvious at first. It’s a future where ties and unbuttoned shirts are acceptable. We have to stop this coming true.

Is this film anti-immigration? There was talk of aliens settling in, then they turn on, and massacre, their hosts.

In what sort of work environment would you pass out and nobody would notice?

Those giant windows would not be conducive to sleep.

I wonder if this is going to be one of those films that should have been a pilot to a series.

Come on dude, you’re allowed a “Told you so” for this.

Do they have emergency broadcasts ready for alien invasions?

A lot of aliens seem to use sweeping light these days.

I thought corporate looking dude was going to be a douchebag at first, but he seems OK.

Typical. Kids always going back for toys… That’s done best in Under the Shadow. There, it has some meaning, rather than being a lazy way of driving the hero into danger.

What if the aliens are just trying to save the planet from us?

The alien infantry weapons sound like drum pads.

The precognition part of this film hasn’t served any narrative purpose. Without it, though, the film offers very little.

Where;s the futile military attack? Every invasion film has one. It’s the law.

Is this going to be an hour of his daughter screaming?

Projecting light onto smoke, just like NIN do.

Oh dear. Picks up alien gun and can rewire it in minutes.

Kinda like that aliens aren’t invincible – they go down when shotgunned. Bit thick though. It seems they have the ability to flatten tower blocks, but go floor by floor.

Is the alien going to be… You. Human. You’d better bloody say why, but I’ve a feeling you won’t. Why did they have breathing apparatus when they can just breathe?

Oh. You people. Are they not human then?

Why, if you’d captured one of them, would you kill them? Surely they could be interrogated? You won’t get many other chances.

OK, so that’s a twist. Typically, no foreshadowing, unless I was to watch it again, but that’s not happening.

They needed to lay more groundwork, make the androids more oppressed. Instead, they seem pretty awful. Makes the humans wiping them out seem not so bad.

So Miles the human let them go and now they’re killing humans. Those deaths are on him.

That train had Korn stencilled on it. Wonder if he’s still wearing that same Adidas top and making samey music.

Humans aren’t very good shots.

And why not use that quad laser before?

Wiping their memories surely reduced their preparedness.

This end credits music is apt in that it’s bland.

The twist itself was mildly interesting, but everything else was pretty much balls.



This is a f… I was about to say this was a first – drunk and subtitles, but near the beginning of Corking Movies, I watched some Tarkovsky. I get the feeling there won’t be much humour in this review, but we’ll see.

I’ve seen this line in the trailer, but I do like. “Do you euthanize animals here?” “Those too.” That’s the first dialogue in the film. Makes me think we won’t be messing about here.

That Petri’s a dish… And that may be the only joke in this. That garage is full of nudie calendars.

I’m getting the vibes of another film, but I can’t think what it is.

Never understood why people have pets and abuse them. Unless you’re an actually a sadist, you’ll find a home for them.

“Soldiers of Finland?” Sound like pleas… Yup. Neo-Nazis. Who or what is Tom of Finland?

Tom of Finland
Coincidentally, Sky had a film about Tom of Finland on their list. This was just about the ‘safest’ drawing of his I could find.

Is there something in him being a mechanic? He brings the mechanical back to life, but the organic, he helps to die. And he does it with love.

I’ve not watched a lot of Finnish cinema, but the main guy looks familiar.

I didn’t know  Finland used the Euro. I thought they were part of the trading zone, but didn’t use the Euro. Part of the Free Trade Association like Norway. See. Corking Movies is educational. (Sober edit. What my drunken self was trying to say was that Norway are part of the FTA, but Finland are full members).

Isn’t the lily of the valley poisonous? I’m guessing he doesn’t like his father.

I imagine it’s difficult for non-Finnish people to speak Finnish. Finnish seems a weird mix of Japanese and Polish. If you look at some of the Finnish footballer’s names they could be Japanese.

I’m glad they haven;t made the protagonist a total outsider. Gives him more depth. He’s disconnected from the people who live near him, but he is not a total sociopath.

I wonder if neo-nazis are on the rise in Finland the way they are here and the US. I don’t imagine there is much immigration there. Maybe I’m doing it a disservice. I think I’d like to visit, but I can’t imagine there’s much economic migration. (sober edit. It seems that there is quite a large neo-nazi movement in Finland. And my drunk reasoning behind there not being much was a bit narrow minded.)

One thing about cowards like this guy – questioning them in front of their friends is dangerous.

I think it’s hard to judge acting in another language, but this seems very good.

The trailer miss-sold the film. Did it a disservice. Made it out to be a serial killer film when it’s not.

I hope this does well. When I was young, well, teens, when my parents went for a meal, they’d get me and my brother a film. Sometimes they’d pick them, and they would pick some real obscure, but very good, stuff. God knows how they found out about them. This film feels like one of those.

We would also be treated to the delicious flavours of Dominos pizza (now, about that sponsorship deal)

Some of this is so beautifully shot. Unlike some I’ve watched recently, this is a film by film lovers.

This film twists and turns like a twisty turny thing. Just when you think you know what it is, VOOP! it’s something else. I don’t mean it’s a confused film, it’s not. It disorients the viewer. It keeps the viewer engaged.

I wonder if directors pick guns for a reason, or because they’re available. For example ,I think that was a Tokarev, which is Soviet. I may be wrong.

Remember kids, don’t confuse limestone and quicklime. One increases decomposition, the other slows it down.

I think it’s funny that this neo-nazi group has just for members. Like Korg in Thor – Ragnarok, who tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets, so hardly anyone turned up.

Oh hey guys.

I think I’d have liked this film to have discussed the neo-nazi angle more. It’s a debate that sadly needs to be had over 70 years since they were supposedly put to bed. Now, patriots espouse their values whilst draping themselves with flags. Look at the Proud Boys. Their great-grandfathers would be sick.

Paul Thingy from Prison Planet
An idiot, yesterday.

Maybe the end was a little hurried. Maybe. With films like this though, that often feels the case. It’s the journey, not the destination.