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Review: Five Fingers for Marseilles

On a bit of a whim, I headed out to Cinema Village to see Five Fingers for Marseilles. IndieWire advertised it as a South African Western, which is right up my alley; I’ve always loved the cultural malleability of what should be a quintessentially American genre: Kurosawa and his contemporaries recycled many of its tropes and conventions for their revisionist samurai films, the Italians (notably Sergios Leone and Corbucci) arguably codified its modern visual language, and Korean director Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird remains one of the most exhilarating, intoxicating cinematic remixes I’ve ever witnessed.

Five Fingers continues this proud tradition of postmodern reimagining, checking off all the necessary boxes as far as iconic imagery goes (sprawling landscapes, claustrophobic closeups, Mexican standoffs). But the Western isn’t defined solely by its aesthetics (despite their near-limitless versatility); fortunately, writer Sean Drummond doesn’t neglect the themes at the core of his predecessors. Indeed, the intrusion of corrupt “civilization” into untamed, “free” land (symbolized the the inexorable expansion of the railroad) is probably more powerful and resonant in the context of colonialism and Apartheid-era oppression—proving once again that even if you replace horses with bicycles or battered pickup trucks, six shooters with slingshots, and tumbleweeds with discarded plastic bags, certain ideas are simply universal.

[Originally written September 8, 2018.]

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