Sunday, August 20, 2006

Review: Tsotsi

Tsotsi is a grim reminder of what life is still like in the slums of South Africa from writer/director Gavin Hood. This inspiring film shows the beauty and horror of the townships in what the viewer can only assume is Johannesburg. It is based on a novel by Athol Fugard.

It's a film filled with contradiction. It opens with the young gangster Tsotsi (played by Presley Chweneyagae) leading his gang of four into the train station to rob a wealthy man. They end up killing the man and letting him fall as the train car empties. This leads to Boston (Mothusi Magano) questioning why they kill the people they rob--he is obviously shaken by this when he begins vomiting. Boston is the only educated one of the group and asks Tsotsi many questions about his family. Tsotsi doesn't answer anything and only stares harshly at his cohort before beating him senseless in front of the crowd of the local bar.

Attitudes change quickly in this relatively short film as Tsotsi goes out on his own to carjack a wealthy woman's car. He shoots her in the stomach in front of her house gate and drives off in her car only to find it occupied by a baby. He becomes scared and grabs everything from the car, including the baby, puts it in a shopping bag and runs off through the fields toward his home in the township.

For reasons that the viewer doesn't quite see, Tsotsi tries to care for the baby even though he has no clue as to how. He seeks out help and even tries to leave his life of crime. He even attempts to sever ties with his gang while still taking care of them as friends and surrogate family. As much as he tries to change, his past deeds follow him through to the end.

This is not a film for anyone seeking a summer Hollywood blockbuster. This is social commentary more than entertainment. It is occasionally disturbing to see the injustices that occur at the hands of gangs and police. The moral lines are blurred and every action by a character is a reaction to the immediate situation and, sometimes, past situations.

Tsotsi was the winner of the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It is in urban slang of South Africa with English subtitles. The running time of the film is slightly under an hour and a half. It is rated R for language and violence.

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