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Review: Sew the Winter to My Skin

Written by tha - bang from the blog Movies and Things with Thabang on 15 Feb 2019
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Jahmil X.T Qubeka shot to fame a couple years back with his infamously banned, then quickly unbanned, feature film Of Good Report.

Yes that one... the one with the school teacher touching on a little girl that got the Film and Publication Board's knickers and boxer shorts in a twist. The controversy gave the movie and Jahmil some needed publicity, and the man is back with another feature film.

So what makes Sew the Winter to My Skin the other great Western of 2018? Let's dig in...

Five Fingers For Marseilles was the other great Western of 2018... if Five Fingers was a dope commercial Revisionist Western... then Sew the Winter to My Skin is the dope arthouse Revisionist Western. If you not sold on that alone then continue reading...

Jahmil, the writer and director of Sew, takes on a true life story, adds a mythical layer and some seriously idiosyncratic touches to create an epic Western with a twist.

The story is that of the historical figure of John Kepe who terrorized General Botha and his sheep, and created a name for himself in the Karoo.

Now Jahmil could have gone Long Walk to Freedom lite, in his retelling of this man's life, but he skips most of the tropes that are associated with biographies.

The early years are not there - the man as a child, the man coming into his own are all not bothered with - he jumps straight into the man as the Robin Hood of the Karoo, stealing sheep instead of gold.

Then to complicate things even further, Jahmil does what Gavin Woods did in his seminal short film The Storekeeper whereby there’s minimal to no dialogue.  

Jahmil strips the film of most of its dialogue which gives it that Once Upon a Time in the West and numerous other Westerns with the silent strong type. The minimalistic use of dialogue does a lot for the performance of the actors, who emote more because of it.

A case in point is Zolisa Xaluva who has a field day conveying his hatred for everything black through his stare as the Black Wyatt Earp … a man who has a lot in common with Uncle Rackus if he had a badge.

Ezra Mabengeza plays John Kepe with heart and determination and truly throws himself into his role. You can never go wrong with Brenda Ngxoli. It must be noted that Jahmil gives some naunce to his naunce to the white character Peter Kurth is able to portray a flawed man trapped by his time. Even the unredeemable Scarface Kid played by Dave Walpole is given his dew ….that’s how littered with great performances this movie is.

The other gem in this movie is its themes. For a movie set in the past, most, if not all the themes speak to South Africa today: the land issue, race relations, black supporters of oppressive states, the coloured vs black notions, white folks who dissent from the widely held truths to the continuous systematic oppression of Africans in the land of their birth.

It's all here and more… the film tackles some of the heart-breaking issues of modern SA in a mythical past.

The movie is also shot beautifully - it's one of the best looking films to come out from last year.

Kudos to Jonathan Kovel who has created images that are basically moving paintings. The man is constantly creating beautiful frames upon frames.... that could live on their own and the editing team create a very subtle edit.

Yet you feel Jahmil as the writer/director weaving a story on his own terms. He is not giving you what you'd get from Hollywood. He is a weaving a tale that once you let it carry you, it immerses you in his view of a time and a place, a la what Alfonso Cuarón has done with Roma.

If there was justice, this movie wouldn't be on limited screens but alas arthouse in SA is still a dirty word but damn, Jahmil X.T Qubeka makes it look and feel great.

What did it feel like? If the Coen Brothers choose to do a movie on race relations in South Africa, with less dry humour.


*Rubbish,thats what in this films pants
** Ja nee ,you are on your own here
*** Ya zama-nyana
****Ampore Perfect
***** Classic. Buy ticket.Buy the Blu Ray

Actors in this post: Zolisa Xaluva, Brenda Ngxoli


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