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The Swenkas (2004)

  Directed by: Jeppe Rønde
Written by: Kim Leona, Jeppe Rønde
Links: The Swenkas on the IMDb
Genre: Documentary

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

""I am dangerous"" - a review by timchuma

Set in Johannesburg, this feature-length documentary follows the lives of 'The Swenkas', a group of migrant workers living in the city, whose motto is "cleanliness and respect" and who get together on Saturday night in fine clothes to be "swanky" as part of a competition that has been going for over 30 years. It runs much deeper than this however, as the group is a support network, has a strict moral code and is part of a strong tradition in the city.

The story follows Mr Dangerous (Mr Zulu) and Sabelo in particular. Sabelo has just lost his father (who was also the leader of the Swenkas), his brother is in jail and he is just about to marry. Mr Zulu made a promise to Sabelo's father to give him guidance and look after him, and it is great to watch them talking together.

Come December and the Swenkas return to their homes in the country for Christmas where the competition is played out for real (cash and cows) and Sabelo prepares for his wedding. As the story goes on, we learn much more about their lives and the importance that the Swenkas plays in them.

Although this film is a documentary, it is different to the usual style as it contains a structured narrative. While some people may think that having a structured story in a documentary goes against the rules, I thought it worked very well. In particular, I liked the narration at the start and end of the film by one of the elder Swenkas, as it gave a lot of authority and respect to the film.

My favourite scenes were those of the Swenkas contests, as they performed so well and it is different to anything else I have seen. I would have liked to have seen more of them, but I understand that you really need to know the story behind it if you want to put it in the correct cultural context.

The clothes the Swenkas wear for their 'swank' are really great and their version of bling-bling is much better than any gangster-rapper as there is a real story behind it and it actually means something other than showing off your money. I also enjoyed when Sabelo showed his father's old Swenka clothes and told the story behind them.

What I really enjoyed about this documentary was that the people were left to tell their own story and things seemed to develop naturally. The only time we actually see the director is when he is called upon to judge a contest in the countryside. This is a lesson people such as Michael Moore should take note of, as the director should not be the centre of the story.

I also enjoyed the music. It was a mixture of traditional Zulu singing, old-time Swing music, piano, violin, cello and a country number just to mix things up. While the singers do not need any accompaniment, it was great to see the Swenkas do their thing with a low-key number in the background to go along with it.

It was also good how they managed to work the story that the mother was telling her family into the overall story as well as having the Swenkas working out who would be their new leader while everything else was going on. The overall message of the movie is also beautifully presented in a touching scene between Sabelo and his son at the end of the film, as he tells him of the meaning of hope.

timchuma gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 28 Jul 2005

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Reader comments

  1. hey just thought ild say i saw this movie and hated it. It honestly had no redeming qualities. I find it hard that any one could justify a 4 star rating. Who ever wrote this review : what the hell are you thinking?

    Rating given: 3

    A comment from lma\\\\ on Fri 29 Jul 2005 11:11 #

  2. The previous observer misses the point completely. This is a studious production. It illustrates the dignity and creativity of an underprivillaged majority.
    I was so impressed and inspired.

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Rob Warden on Mon 02 Oct 2006 05:43 #

  3. i wonder if you guys are prepared to pay for you using my name and surname...as a public figure let's talk & see how i can help in marketing your movie, whic I have no doubt is a good movie.

    A comment from sabelo zulu on Wed 17 Jan 2007 02:55 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 6.00 (2 ratings)

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