The tale of Samson of Boschberg, John Kepe is one that I discovered only through seeing Jahmil X.T Qubeka’s ode to the mysterious hero-villain character that is believed to have lived in the 1900s in Somerset East.
In the two hours long cinematic exploration of Kepe’s life, director Jahmil seems to be telling the story from the other side, which is welcome because in every story there are three versions: your version, my version, and the truth.
Sew the winter to my skin, is a tale about the enigmatic John Kepe, who became the self-proclaimed Samson of the Boschberg Mountains.
Kepe (Ezra Mabengeza) spends his time terrorizing white farmers, stealing their livestock and supplies to give it back to impoverished local communities. General Botha (Peter Kurth) a struggling World War II veteran becomes obsessed with the mission to capture the elusive Kepe.
With the help of the law enforcer Black Wyatt Earp (Zolisa Xaluva) we go down the journey of the capture Kepe and see things a little bit more from his perspective.
One of the thrilling things about this film is that it is almost completely silent, outside of the few words and music worked into the story, it is virtually silent.
The lack of dialogue I realised forces the viewer to pay attention to certain things, like the facial expressions on the character’s faces, the clothing worn, and the location of the film.
In the notes about the film, it is mentioned that the shoot took place in the area where the actual capture of Kepe happened. A town that still to this day struggles with racial tensions and is not accustomed to filming.
This is both a blessing and a curse- a curse because I can only imagine that it must have been difficult to work in that space. But a blessing because it lends a certain level of authenticity to the film.
Ezra Mabengeza’s portrayal of Kepe was enjoyable. He’s quite physical in the film, which works well for the role because he manages to tell the story without using words. But how he looks-physically his beard and hair, his wardrobe, builds a fitting image of what Kepe must have looked like.
Zolisa Xaluva as Black Wyatt Earp is a pleasure to watch. He portrays so beautifully the intensity of an apartheid-era enforcer-so much so that you end up wanting to develop something of a hatred for him. But he also carries the tension of being Black yet working in an anti-Black system so beautifully.
Seeing as we’re in the middle of an era where we are in the thick of discussions about land, dispossession, racism, the film works well to highlight these issues, without seeming too preachy. The downside of the film was that at times it seems to jump around a bit, which can leave you feeling a little lost. This is where I wished there was dialogue to help me along.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, one that I would encourage other people to watch too.
‘Sew The Winter to My Skin’ opens Friday.