The Swenkas (Review)

December 26, 2009 - 2 minutes read
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This is the story of The Swenkas, a small group of working Zulu men in post-apartheid South Africa. Men who every Saturday night leave their grimy overalls behind and wear their best Carducci or Pierre Cardin suits to impress the weekly-selected judge. These men are called the Swenkas, and they have organised this fashion show for so many years that no one remembers exactly when – or even why – it all began.

Normally, the prize for best suit and style of the night is money, but on special occasions like Christmas the winner walks home with a living goat or even a cow on a leash. And this story starts at Christmas time. It follows the youngest Swenka, Sabelo (now 31) in the most turbulent time of his life. He has to bury his father just a week before Christmas – and only a week before his own wedding. But not only has Sabelo lost a father. His father was also leader of the Swenkas, and now Sabelo and his fellow Swenkas find themselves in a state of incertitude. Will Sabelo give up swanking? Will the group find a new leader? Will the art of swanking go on?

The Swenkas

Working men during the day. Dressed like kings Saturday night.

Here is a tenderly-told tale about the importance of preserving cultural traditions, and the role of fathers in passing on knowledge to their sons. Beautifully filmed and acted, the film has a simple elegance that seems to weld its various acts into a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. The scenes between ‘fathers’ and ‘sons’ are particularly pertinent and heart wrenching, while the rest is not without the gentle punch of humour. Watch it, and you might just weep.

The Swenkas is the second part of the trilogy Faith, Hope & Love, preceded by the multiple award-winning, Jerusalem My Love. The Swenkas took the viewers award at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.

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