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Postby howardschumann(d) » Mon Mar 20, 2006 5:29 pm


Directed by Gavin Hood (2005)

Ubuntu is a Bantu word for a traditional African concept that means a person becomes human through interaction with others or "I am what I am because of who we all are". The idea of Ubuntu is embraced by Gavin Hood's Tsotsi, winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Based upon Athol Fugard's 1961 novel of the same name, the film 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. The violence it depicts is an everyday aspect of life in parts of Johannesburg and Soweto today but Hood does not glamorize it or distract us with bright colors, jump cuts, or hand-held camera work in City of God fashion. Rather he uses muted sepia tones and a conventional style to paint the bleak atmosphere of the slums and enter the mind of its inhabitants.

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. In the "Tsotsi-Taal" language of the streets, Tsotsi stands for thug and we do not learn his real name for over half the film. 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. In one incident, the gang sticks an ice pick into the heart of a wealthy man on a Johannesburg subway for no reason other than that he was counting his money in public.

When Boston vomits after the killing and questions Tsotsi about his understanding of the word decency and asks about his real name, the stone-faced hoodlum beats him brutally but the questions linger in the back of his mind. Out of control, he steals a Mercedes from a rich woman (Nambitha Mpumlwana), then shoots her in the stomach when she resists. When he discovers the woman's infant son in the back of the car, he is forced to deal with the 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.

She is a widow who ekes out a living sewing and selling mobiles created out of glass. 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. The presence of the infant is the trigger for him to look at his own life. He remembers when his mother (Sindi Shambule) was dying of AIDS and his father (Israel Makoe) in a fit of rage kicked his barking dog, breaking its back as Tsotsi, (played in flashbacks by Benny Moshe) ran away to live in a cluster of drainpipes with abandoned children.

Presley Chweneyagae delivers a luminous performance in his first role and his gradual redemption, shown mostly by gesture and facial expression, is totally convincing. His character is never idealized or romanticized and Hood carefully avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality. As the police search for the missing child, the baby's mother, paralyzed from the waist down, lies in a nearby hospital as Tsotsi returns to the baby's parents' home with his gang for a burglary. Events, however, take a surprising turn, leading to the film's deeply moving conclusion that left the audience frozen in their seats for five minutes after the final credits, with many faces full of tears.


Re: Tsotsi

Postby trevor826 » Thu Mar 23, 2006 3:50 pm

Just come back from seeing Tsotsi, I'll relay my thoughts later but would just like to say that the central performance was astounding.

Okay, I've tried to write my thoughts but to be honest Howard's comments have made such efforts on my part superfluous, he's really hit the nail on the head with this film.

So just as a short note, the films intent is to show the pivotol moment in the life of someone who (due to what I term as cause and effect but which again Howard has addressed far more succinctly) couldn't sink any lower in terms of humanity and decency.

Presley Chweneyagae, what can you say! A real "tour de force" performance as the thug or Tsotsi, a real lurking sense of menace and danger, a small time gangleader with no scruples at all, a truly stunning performance.

The township feels right, everything feels right and even though when you break it down it's a fairly straightforward story (in terms of construction) that's the last thing you'll be thinking about as you're watching it.

What a surprise to see a film as good as this win the Oscar for best Foreign language film, I'm sure if this had been an American film, Presley Chweneyagae would have been in the running for best leading actor.

Tsotsi comes highly recommended, I think most if not all on this site would truly appreciate the film and the central performance in particular.

Cheers Trev

Re: Tsotsi

Postby wpqx » Fri Mar 31, 2006 4:08 pm

I was extremely apprehensive seeing the film. I do not trust most Academy predictions, and lately they have been exceptionally bad with their Foreign Language choices. Having already seen fellow nominees Joyeux Noel and Fateless and not being overwhelmed by either, I had even less to hope for here. I was warned that the film was sentimental, and I guess it was with these ridiculously low expecations that I was able to appreciate the film. Likewise I wanted to write a proper review, but Howard pretty much says it better than I could. He's got his facts, and seems to have had the same reaction to it that I did. I recall some people being surprised at the films Oscar victory, but based on the three nominees I've seen, I'd say the right choice was made, even if the best foreign language films were again unnominated. First rate film, and the crowd wasn't exactly speechless after I saw it, because I was one of only four people there, but for once I wasn't the only person sitting through all of the credits. The soundtrack was also quite impressive, being relatively unfamiliar with South African music I was quite a fan, if this film did a little better, I could easily see an African music fad, which sort of happened when Paul Simon made Graceland.

Grade A

Re: Tsotsi

Postby A » Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:59 am

Thanks Howard, great review!
I'll try to see the film.

Re: Tsotsi

Postby howardschumann(d) » Tue Apr 25, 2006 3:12 pm

Thanks very much. Hope you can get to see it.

Re: Tsotsi

Postby trevor826 » Tue Jul 18, 2006 10:28 pm

The dvd has just been released in the UK and is quite impressive, apart from the film itself which is thoroughly deserving of its Oscar win (for once), there's also a commentary plus a good selection of other extras.

Three music videos
'Making Of Tsotsi' featurette
Deleted scenes
Bonus documentary: 'Day In The Life Of Josias'
Two alternative endings both of which I'm glad weren't used
'The Storekeeper' a short film from 1998.

The short and some of the other extras also have an optional commentary adding even more value. It's worth getting the dvd for the film alone but the extra features make this a very worthwhile package.

Shame there's no DTS track but I guess you can't have everything.

The R2 dvd has been released by Momentum Pictures and deserves to do very well.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Tsotsi

Postby wpqx » Wed Jul 19, 2006 12:04 am

The DVD in the US has also been released this past week, but I'm not sure what it features as far as extras. I do however agree with your Oscar assessment (as far as nominated films anyways).

Re: Tsotsi

Postby hengcs » Wed Jul 19, 2006 3:16 am

i am waiting to watch on a BIG SCREEN
hiaks hiaks

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