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2006-07-13 10:30


To many people 19-year-old Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) is like their worst nightmare. Once a street kid, he has clawed his way up the food chain with a combination of cunning and brutality to become the leader of a small criminal gang. With no ambitions other than survival, he takes what he needs through intimidation and violence. He and his fellows - the jovial Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), the cold-blooded Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe) and the educated but disillusioned Boston (Mothusi Magano) - spend their evenings robbing train passengers and stealing cars.

Then, alone one rainy night, Tsotsi stumbles upon an easy chance to hijack a BMW. When the owner resists, Tsotsi panics, shoots her, and speeds away. He soon realizes the reason for her resistance - in the back of the car lies a four-month-old infant. He decides to abandon the car and the baby, but something in its cries keeps him from leaving. Impulsively he grabs the child and carries it back to his shack. Little does he realize that this tiny, helpless person has started him a path that will change his life forever.


If anyone needs proof that the South African film industry has left behind a long and difficult adolescence and is now blooming into a period of vibrant maturity, then Tsotsti is ample evidence of this renaissance. Along with films like Yesterday, A Boy Called Twist and a host of others, Tsotsti has all the hallmarks of a world-class piece of cinema: superb production values, true to life performances, a compelling story and, above all, a complete absence of any cultural cringe.

As with many great films Tsotsti began as a great story. Adapted from playwright Athol Fugard's only novel, it may on the surface appear to be a run of the mill gangster movie - Goodfellas set in the townships. But, while it certainly has all the swagger and style of such movies, it is really a deeply personal story of one young man's fall into evil and his struggle for redemption. This mythic, universal quality is undoubtedly part of what makes the film so accessible and attractive to the hordes of foreign audiences, from Edinburgh to Toronto, who have showered it with praise.

Still, a good story is worthless if badly told, but Tsotsti never puts a foot wrong. Director Gavin Hood and cinematographer Lance Gewer have painstaking crafted each shot of the film, making each scene a marvel of understated beauty and economy. Together with the production and costume designers, Hood has captured Joburg and her townships in a way that is simultaneously gritty and glamorous, real and imaginary. Combined with taut editing and a superb score - part thumping kwaito, part soaring lament - these sumptuous visuals make Tsotsti a joy to watch.

Happily, the performances match the visuals beat for beat. This is particularly impressive considering they are largely unknown and untried. Presley Chweneyagae gives a bravura performance as the eponymous anti-hero, and his fellow gangsters (including kwaito star Zola) all acquit themselves admirably, but it's newcomer Terry Pheto who steals the show as the gentle Miriam. The wonderful Jerry Mofokeng makes the most of his small but challenging role as a wheelchair bound vagrant, as does Rapulana Seiphemo as the baby's distraught father.

In a final touch of brilliance, the filmmakers chose to have the cast speak entirely in South African languages, from the ubiquitous tsotsi-taal to Tswana, Zulu, Afrikaans and Sotho. Not only does this varnish the dialogue with an extra layer of authenticity, it also lends the speaking parts a wonderful texture and rhythm that English just cannot match.

There's no doubt that the film's subject matter will be difficult for many South Africans to deal with. Most of us have been affected by violent crime, either directly or indirectly, and the idea of a film that glamourizes this underworld would be totally repugnant to its many victims. But Tsotsti is, in essence, a powerful refutation of that awful world, not a celebration of it. It is a fable that repeats a very old lesson - that no man is damned who seeks redemption. It puts a human face on the shadowy demon that the criminal has become in our collective consciousness, and shows that he too can love, can hope, can seek forgiveness.

It would be a great pity if Tsotsti were ignored by local audiences. Foreign viewers can enjoy the luster and richness of a story well told, but it will never be more than an exotic curiosity to them. For South Africans the film has a more powerful resonance as a microcosm of the challenges faced by our fragile democracy. It is a tale of hope and of redemption through the elemental human rights of decency, dignity and life. Don't miss it.

- Alistair Fairweather

This Oscar winning production is one of the finest films to ever come out of South Africa, with great performances, a story that's both relevant and interesting, and world class production values.

Jean 2006/01/31 10:10
One of the best films I've seen Tsotsi is one of the best films I"ve seen. Moving, FANTASTIC kwaito soundtrack, gorgeously shot but not in that annoying "I had a farm in Aaaafrica style". One of the most entertaining movies I've watched in the last 365 days, too. Goodfellas... and it's quite similar actually.
Mara 2006/02/07 17:53
Tsotsi Exellent Recommend ***** Stars.
Megan 2006/02/08 15:14
Tsotsi Absolutely breathtaking -brilliant perfomances and an extremely well told tale of redemption at the deepest level - I left the cinema feeling good about South Africa and all its diversities Highly recommended
james 2006/02/17 20:28
very good it really deserves the oscar it got nominated for i dont know what could stop it from winning what it deserves and that is an oscar
sharon 2006/02/20 12:35
zola`s first appearence i loved it so much tsotsi
Henry E Goliath 2006/03/06 11:01
Mr dddde
Tandekile 2006/03/06 11:03
Tsotsi Without help from big stars from the west, we really can stand our ground. It was a good novel, and this - a brilliant movie. Well done Tsotsi - 'u-des Joe'. Dingaka - 'an old classic'
Nozipho 2006/03/06 11:29
Wonderful Move, Well done South Africans The guy "Presley" acts tsotsi part very well, I didn't know him but wow! he's the best actor. I'd recommend that everyone must see it, it's a lesson about those kids who stays on the streets, that others it's not being naughty staying on the streets, but there're reasons. Once they explain then you'll understand.
Mmathabiso 2006/03/06 11:35
Lwandle 2006/03/06 11:39
I like the movie, i can't get enough of it! I think Zola is a good actor, he feets in every act, like here in Tsotsi he's a business man, he doesn't care about the where'abouts of the car, he just buys! I think next time when Zola is on the movie, they should make him part of those tsotsi guys. I know he can act that part very well.
Paulo Andrade 2006/03/06 13:32
Very Good Film will show many south africans the other side of how our people live, YES
Fikile 2006/03/06 14:00
Tsotsi I like the film I do recommend the movie
landoline 2006/03/06 14:16
tsotsi good movie indeed.Was some sort of unticlimax on the scene where tsotsi was shown with the girl breastfeeding the child, thought sparks should have flown there. I would recommend the movie
landoline 2006/03/06 14:16
tsotsi good movie indeed.Was some sort of unticlimax on the scene where tsotsi was shown with the girl breastfeeding the child, thought sparks should have flown there. I would recommend the movie
HENDRIK 2006/03/06 14:22
tsotsi tsotsi
ANGIE NTENJWA 2006/03/07 11:46
tsotsi it shows that behind every thug or killer there is a heart, let alone that tsotsi had a vey bad upbringing he did have a soft spot for that child. specially when we are dealing with stop child abuse in this world I rcommended Tsotsi
Merle Adams 2006/03/07 15:06
Tsosti This film shows that youre never to bad to become a good person . Big Mama2
Chris 2006/03/07 16:19
See it See it see it see it see it see it see it see it see it see it see it A Reasonable Man
NKATEKO 2006/03/12 13:25
NKATEKO 2006/03/12 13:27
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