Five Fingers for Marseilles tells the story of how lives change forever between five friends and their tiny shantytown when one of them kills two corrupt policemen.
Set in the hills its inhabitants call Railway after their town is overrun by settlers from Marseilles, the young ‘Five Fingers’ fight for the rural town against brutal police oppression. Zulu, the oldest of the five friends, reminds them that Marseilles is theirs to protect. They must be mindful in how they do this, and keep their heads so no one gets hurt.
His younger brother, Tau, questions when they’ll stop fighting with sticks and rocks. Zulu tells him that once they cross the line, the police will, too. He tries to make the other boys understand the balance between keeping the peace and standing their ground, where fighting back doesn’t mean extreme violence.
When one incident leaves two police officers dead at the hands of Tau, he flees Marseilles, leaving everyone behind to deal with the aftermath. Twenty years later, labeled a freedom-fighter-turned-outlaw, Tau returns to Marseilles after a life of crime is followed by years in jail. Hardly recognized by anyone, Tau wants only a quiet life, even after discovering that the town is not only under a new threat, but has changed, along with everyone he left behind.
Try as he might to keep only to himself, Tau is eventually forced to fight to free Marseilles – but can he also free himself from his past? After turning his back on the Five Fingers, Tau will soon find out if they’ll do the same to him, leaving him to fight alone, for both his life and the town, or join him once again.
Zulu, their leader; he is brave and fearless. His son grows up desperate to follow in his footsteps.
Lerato, she is their heart and soul, and the mother of Zulu’s son.
Unathi, they call him Pastor; he is their storyteller, turning to a life of religion when he is older.
Luyanda is their broken one; they call him Cockroach, and after what Tau does, he’s left more broken than any of them realize.
Bongani, also called Pockets because he is the rich one; he becomes Mayor of Marseilles, but soon finds out that no amount of money can buy happiness, freedom, or safety.
Tau, the Lion; he is ruthless, the fastest, and sometimes the meanest. Despite these qualities leading him astray, they are exactly what he needs to find his way back home, and then to save the home he abandoned.
Filmed on location in Johannesburg, South Africa, the visualization is as stunning as the story and characters. The quiet and openness of Marseilles’ surroundings either enhance the tension of the story or pans across the screen in subtle harmony with the music. In times of conflict or trouble, there is nothing or no one around to save you. However, inside the moments of solitude, the vast countryside, endless sky, and the colors from each slightly blend together. You don’t feel so alone, but as if you are in the comfortable silence and presence of an old friend.
Also just as visually stunning is the wardrobe of the characters. Evil, innocent, fighting for the town, or just trying to stay alive, you won’t be able to tell the villains from the anti-heroes from their attire. Hats, overcoats, cowboy boots, face masks, and scarves are just additional elements that add to the uniqueness of this film.
Loud background music is unnecessary to reinforce violence, remind you that a scene is dramatic, or even to build up tension. The characters and storyline are strong enough to convey any emotion or deliver a scene with all the elements it’s meant to. Music is present throughout the film as a perfectly balanced underscore.
Labeled as a Western, New York Times says it best about the genre of Five Fingers for Marseilles: the rule of genre is as malleable as the rule of the law. Just like the film itself, the genre is unique and almost undefinable. Even with drama, violence, and a sense of coming-of-age, there is no denying the styles and mannerisms of the characters fall under the Western category. The weapons, horses, and shoot-outs also push it more into the Western genre, but it works for the film, and the story it beautifully tells.
Put aside all your thoughts about Westerns, gangs, corrupt police, criminals and outlaws, and forgotten towns in places no one’s heard of. This story is about broken promises between childhood friends who become strangers living steps away from one another. It’s about forgiveness, maturity, bonds, remembering where you came from, and the culture that’s running through your veins.