Directed by: Gavin Hood
Countries & Regions: South Africa
Length: 90 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 17 July 2006
Cat No: MP549D
Languages(s): Afrikaans, Zulu
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Hard-hitting Afrikaans drama. Presley Chweneyagae stars as the title character, a young delinquent who supports himself through a life of... Read More
Based upon Athol Fugard's 1961 novel of the same name, Tsotsi focuses not on the sixties but on contemporary South Africa, a society twelve years removed from apartheid but still facing crime, poverty, AIDS, and a huge gap between rich and poor. Supported by the energy and rhythm of South African Township music called Kwaito, Tsotsi immediately plunges us into a world of shantytowns, poverty, and cold-blooded crime. Tsotsi (Presley Chwenetagae) is a 19-year old reject, an orphaned hoodlum living in a slum across the river from the splendid high rise buildings of Johannesburg.
Together with his fellow gang members, Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe), Aap (Kenneth Nkose), and a teacher named Boston (Mothusi Magano), he roams the streets looking for robbery victims who often end up murdered. It is only after a robbery and a shooting that he discovers the victim's infant son in the back of the car and is forced to deal with questions about decency raised by Boston. He takes the baby home in a shopping bag and tries to care for it, creating a makeshift diaper out of old newspapers and feeding it from a can of condensed milk. Confronted with the responsibility of having to care for the baby, Tsotsi follows a young woman Miriam (Terry Pheto) to her home, then orders her at gunpoint to breast-feed the infant.
Very gradually, Tsotsi is touched by her humanity and begins to recover his own. There is no epiphany, no single moment of transformation, only the gradual emergence of one man's conscience and his belated awareness of the reality of kindness and the sanctity of life. Presley Chweneyagae delivers a luminous performance in his first role and his gradual redemption, shown mostly by gesture and facial expression, is totally convincing.
An Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Tsotsi, with its mix of youth, violence and poverty, has elements which recall the Brazilian favela life portrayed so powerfully in City of God. However, with its pulsing 'Kwaito' soundtrack and its performance in 'Tsotsi-Taal' - the language of the streets of Soweto, Tsotsi is a film that is firmly grounded in the South African townships, which the super 35mm film and cinematography bring emphatically to life.
Tsotsi (an amazing performance by amateur actor Presley Cheweneyagae) is 19 and has deliberately forgotten his christian name, adopting instead the slang term for a street thug. He hangs out with his gang members Boston, Butcher and Aap at the local bar where they plan their next crime. In a wealthy neighbourhood Tsotsi steals a car from a woman, only to realise later that there is a baby in the back. At first he abandons the child, but in a moment of remorse he takes the baby with him. The helpless child becomes a reflection of Tsotsi's own childhood and as we learn of his past we see his own path through destruction towards eventual redemption.
Based on Athol Fugard's 1980 novel of the same name about a 1950s criminal, Tsotsi has been updated to the post-apartheid present of the townships. Fugard himself ranks it as 'one of the best films ever to come out of South Africa'. High praise indeed but undeniable. Tsotsi is a simple, unsentimental and very powerful story, showing that the shantytowns are not only a places of despair, but also of decency and redemption.