South African Spaghetti Western Enters Toronto Film Festival
Film audiences are eagerly awaiting the premiere of “Five Fingers for Marseilles,” a film that is expected to be one of the most interesting entries at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival in September. Trailers for this official entry were released in late August, and have been received with lots of enthusiasm among cinematographers and lovers of the stylish “spaghetti western” genre. While the idea of a spaghetti western set in South Africa may sound highly unusual, the vision of screenwriter Sean Drummond and director Michael Matthews makes perfect sense. From the narrative to the pacing and from the framing to storytelling, “Five Fingers” was always meant to be filmed as a spaghetti western even though it is far removed from the Old West of American folklore.
“Five Fingers” is an exurban crime drama that follows the proven formula of troubled men who wish to give up their violent ways, but are forced to use them against the forces of corruption and oppression. Those who are familiar with the western genre know that this basic plot can take on many dimensions. In the case of “Five Fingers,” which was filmed in the regional language of Xhosa, the plot also serves as social commentary on the current lived reality of many South African towns with regard to corrupt governance, particularly in marginal communities.
“Five Fingers for Marseilles” is set in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, where the local environs are hot, dry, dusty, rocky, and perfect for filming a spaghetti western. In the trailers released thus far, viewers are treated to panoramic and sweeping vistas of badlands and mountain ranges that pay respectful homage to the films of the legendary Italian maestro Sergio Leone. The stellar South African cast of actors portray their characters as if they were channeling Clint Eastwood or Franco Nero; even the film score evokes the moody work of Ennio Morricone.
While all the scenes and editing of this film were completed within a year, planning and research took more than five years. The intention of making “Five Fingers” has always been to elevate South African film beyond the Hollywood work of Neill Blomkamp. It will be up to the judges and audiences at the film festival in Toronto to decide whether this gritty spaghetti western will get wider exposure at cinema theaters around the world.