The Swenkas

Film
WELL-SUITED South African men compete to see who's the best dressed.
WELL-SUITED South African men compete to see who's the best dressed.

Time Out says

Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rnde's strangely captivating documentary observes a Zulu phenomenon known as "swanking," where blue-collar men known as Swenkas don Euro designer duds and preen before a judge each Saturday night to see who's got the sharpest sense of style. Competing for cash and occasionally livestock, the Swenkas are close-knit friends with a sense of tradition and an ethical code, though some aren't above gently intimidating their peers or visiting a witch doctor for help in winning a contest. Peering into this sartorial subculture, Rnde zeroes in on the oft-crowned Mr. Dangerous and his melancholy, 31-year-old charge, Sabelo, who's reeling from the sudden death of his father just a week before his marriage.

Framed as a quasi-fictional tale, complete with a vagabond griot whose narration bookends the film, The Swenkas sweeps us from Johannesburg, the City of Gold, to the pastoral countryside as it eavesdrops on intimate conversations between Sabelo and family members. At times, Rnde's imagery approaches poetry, thanks to the efforts of editor Olivier Bugge Coutt and Povl Kristian's fluttering score. Best of all, the director has a sly, almost Herzogian sense of how to blend fiction and documentary without compromising the veracity of what he observes.

On the same bill is Virgil Widrich's animated short "Fast Film." This madcap reconfiguration of cinema history, culled from 65,000 paper images, yokes Monty Python--esque collage with Guy Maddin's furious energy, to whimsical effect.—Damon Smith

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