BFI LFF Review: Sew the Winter to My Skin (2018)

Sew the Winter to my Skin is an excoriatingly angry film set in the Apartheid 1950s from South African director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka.

Samson Agonistes

by Alexa Dalby

Sew the Winter to my Skin

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Set in the apartheid era in 1952, Sew the Winter to my Skin is the story of the last days of John Kepe, a Robin Hood-type figure who called himself the ‘Samson of the Boschberg’, on the run as the local Afrikaaner landowners and police remorselessly hunt him down.

As strong and ingenious Kepe, Ezra Mabengeza is running for the entire film. Quebeka manipulates time, flashing back and forth between Kepe’s sentencing, his crimes, his family, the cave he lives in and his love of the popular songs of the time. There are violent, brutal scenes of white oppression of rural black people. Kepe’s nemesis is landowner Botha (Peter Kurth), enjoying the fruits of exploitation and implacably leading the posse to hunt Kepe down, which includes a corrupt black policeman (Zolisa Xaluva) emulating the whites’ treatment of his black compatriots.

As in Quebeka’s first film Of Good Report, there’s no dialogue between people, just natural sounds or statements and ironically chosen music – the African jazz of that time and Germanic Afrikaaner songs. The article being typed by a journalist following the story provides what commentary there is. It’s a technique that focuses on striking images and shots by a director with an eye for artistry and visual excitement as well as uncompromising political confrontation. It’s in-your-face angry filmmaking that arises from decades-old wellsprings of injustice and pain. No dialogue? It’s the unspoken language of tomorrow, for those who can understand it.

Sew the Winter to My Skin screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 19 and 20 October 2018. It is South Africa’s entry for the Oscars.

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