Four Corners (15) | Close-Up Film Review
Dir. Ian Gabriel, South Africa, 2013, 119 mins, in Afrikaans and English with subtitles where appropriate
Cast: Brendon Daniels, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Irshaad Ally, Abduragman Adams, Jezriel Skei, Jerry Mofokeng, Israel Makoe
Probably the most poignant part of Ian Gabriel’s winner of Best Narrative at the 2014 Santa Fe Film Festival is the human melodrama at the film’s core. The story of the gangland war between two rival number groups, referred to as the six’s and eight’s (representing the numbers 26 and 28), this accomplished South African film pits a naive Ricardo (Jezriel Skei) a young chess prodigy directly in the centre of the escalating conflict between the two gangs, as the film sheds a light on this unique and volatile South African sub-culture.
It seems that the film’s title is representative of the entrapment of the film’s characters, who must choose between the rival gangs at a very early age. Like enemies on a chessboard, it’s “one wrong move and you’re dead”. Four Corners’ multiple thread storyline serves the film well in terms of presenting the differing perspectives in the growing angst as the literal game of chess remains at the film’s core. Concurrently, the films explores: a spate of missing boys – one of which includes the younger brother of Gasant (Irshaad Ally), the charismatic leader of the 26 gang under the investigation of detective Tito (Abduragman Adams); the attempt by Farakhan (Brendon Daniels) to reconnect with his son Ricardo and disconnect with his former gang (28’s) after his lengthy stay in prison and reclaim his family home; and finally Leila’s (Lindiwe Matshikiza) disillusionment with her childhood after her father’s death as she returns from London to her childhood home, as Gabriel’s coming-of-age crime drama covers ideas of family and loss in equal measure.
As Ricardo becomes further immersed into the criminal underworld as he attempts to claim his flag, his youth seemingly stolen as his chess aspirations are put under increasing threat, this fantasy-drama then begins to pull the audience in multiple directions as Gabriel begins to flesh out his emotionally powerful film.
The various links to the traditional game of chess really help to hold together a film that is at the same time doing and saying a lot of things. For example, exposing the pervasiveness of gang culture in South Africa by looking at its instances of manipulation and gang initiation of young males, religious spiritualism, stolen youth and the prison/police system, in a film where the gang war becomes the epicenter for a much larger social problem.
As stated in the film, “Four Corners is life. You can never really get away” as all the film’s characters must make many hard choices throughout the film’s 119 minutes. Despite its lengthy run-time, Gabriel’s film manages to keep your attention right up until the credits begin to roll as in his film life unravels in the most startling fashion. Four Corners’ unexpected plot twist is one of the many instances that point to the prowess of Gabriel’s (and Scholtz) narrative skills, with Vicci Turpin’s impressive cinematography and framing to boot (in reference to one shoot-out scene in particular), as the crew’s efforts coalesce in a spectacularly gritty fashion. Likewise, the level of acting from all the characters is superb, bolstering the profile of this low budget film. From this view, it becomes even more of a shame that Four Corners was not up for bigger and better things, such as the 85th Academy Awards (2014 Oscars). However its 6 Golden Horn Awards – including wins for Best Film, Actor, Cinematography, Original Sound and Score – should not be overlooked.
Touching and true to life, gripping and disquieting all at the same time, Gabriel should be very proud of what he has achieved on a such a minute budget. Definitely a sign of great things to come from the South African director.
Like an actual game of (Western) chess, high levels of skill and strategy are required in order to checkmate the opponent’s king by placing it under an inescapable threat capture. In Gabriel’s Four Corners chess is life, and “in chess the move you don’t have is to stand still, whether you like it or not.” And in chess what must you do to win? “You must kill the King!”
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark