3 things you might not know about South African western “Five Fingers for Marseilles”


There’s a good chance that Five Fingers for Marseilles has popped up in your social media feed, South Africa’s buzziest film right now. Five Fingers has already lit up the global festival circuit and earned excellent reviews, and it’s still going strong. If you still don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, or you just have a vague idea about the film, then this listicle is for you. I’m sorry but I only have three things to highlight. It could have been five, you know, to blend with the title and all, but whatever.

Directorial Debut of Michael Matthews

Michael Matthews is a fast-rising South African director whose love for cinema gives him a strong focus on emotive, visual storytelling and performance. He enjoys finding the core of a concept and making it feel more unique and powerful. He has been nominated and won awards both locally and internationally for his work in short films, commercials and music videos. Directing high and low budget, technically complex productions has earned Michael a reputation for executing ambitious projects. His 2017 proof-of-concept film for Charlie Human’s urban fantasy novel Apocalypse Now Now was received warmly. And with Five Fingers, which he directed along with writing and producing partner Sean Drummond, Michael has tipped himself to be an exciting talent in the South African film landscape.

Five Fingers is South Africa’s First Western

With this, I’m mischievously tempted to say that the 2016 Nollywood film Something Wicked is Nigeria’s first proper psychological thriller. But you get the point. Gunslingers and nomadic cowboy storytelling are what I have memorably associated with Hollywood films. The western genre is kind of exclusive. But what Five Fingers does is that it grafts South African culture, its language and aesthetics, into a western tapestry and turns it into delightfully stylised entertainment. The film is also a callback to the apartheid era and tells the story of a group of young men (the Five Fingers) who stand up to brutal police oppression in Marseilles, a town in the rugged badlands of the Eastern Cape. Five Fingers made its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and since then, there has been a clamour for a cinema-wide release in South Africa. A month since premiering in cinemas, Five Fingers is still getting rave reviews.

Five Fingers Was Shot In Just Five Weeks

You would expect that Five Fingers would gulp so much time in shooting, and maybe it’s because it took Matthews a decade to prepare. Prior to shooting, there was the painstaking process of preparing the script, given that it was originally much longer and had to be translated into Sotho. To create the Sotho script, the English was first translated into a draft by translator Mamokuena Makhema, after which each actor had the opportunity to work with their own lines. Different dialects are represented according to who each character is and where they are from. The film shoot was gruelling, though. The cast – some of whom had been recruited as early as 2011 – had to perform in remote areas, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures and working every day in order to complete the film in time. The cast is a mixed bag of old and new talents: Vuyo Dabula, Hamilton Dhlamini, Zethu Dlomo, Kenneth Nkosi, Mduduzi Mabaso, Aubrey Poolo, Dean Fourie and more.

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