Tsotsi review guardian 2006

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  • 1. TTsotsiProduction year: 2005Country: Rest of the worldCert (UK): 15Runtime: 94 minsDirectors: Gavin HoodCast: Israel Makoe, Mothusi Magano, Nambitha Mpumlwana, PresleyChweneyagae, Terry PhetoTsotsi won this years best foreign film Oscar, an award that traditionally goes to pretty safeand undemanding material, and despite the ostensibly edgy nature of the subject matter, thiswas really no exception. Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, is an earnest film about the SouthAfrican shantytowns, and it is at some pains to show that its heart is in the right place - that is,right up on its sleeve. It is taken from an Athol Fugard novel first published in 1980, verymuch the era of apartheid, and it is a pretty grim measure of how little things have changed,in that the story can be transplanted to the modern age by making a duo of cops consist ofone white and one black, by making some of the wealthy folks in the gated communitiesblack, and by implying that the township is now not a politically prescribed ghetto, but a tough,American-style urban "hood"."Tsotsi" means criminal or gangster, and Presley Chweneyagae plays a brash youngtearaway who has forgotten his own name and now answers to nothing but Tsotsi. He is theleader of a three other criminals: Boston (Mothusi Magano), Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe) andAap (Kenneth Nkosi). He meets up with his dangerous crew most nights at the local shebeen,where there is plenty to drink and smoke and where they plan their next criminal spree.What this means is generally hanging around at the train station, looking around for anyonefoolhardy enough to show that they have a wallet-full of cash. Then the gang follows theirtarget on to a crowded train, and threaten him with a blade; Hood has a very tense sequenceshowing how Tsotsi and the gang can actually rob and kill someone entirely noiselessly in thedense mass of commuting workers and leave without anyone realising what has happened.But the most lucrative crime is carjacking. Tsotsi crouches behind a tree as a luxury saloonpulls up to its security gates in an upscale part of Johannesburg - but fatally, the remotecontrol for opening these gates fails to work. The driver has to leave her vehicle to speakthrough the intercom, giving Tsotsi a window of opportunity. He brandishes a gun, shoots thewoman, gets in the car and drives off - and is many miles away before he realises that thereis a baby in the back. For reasons he cant fathom, Tsotsi keeps the baby in his own squalidroom, as clueless about how to look after it as any other young male, law-abiding or not. Andthe baby awakens in him memories of his own childhood and his mother, which he hasdeterminedly repressed.The story of how this baby changes Tsotsi unfolds in tandem with what looks like thepsychological endgame of his criminal career. He has been driven by fear and need, factorsthat this baby exposes in him more clearly, and a neurotic need to control, and to pre-emptviolence with violence, which has inevitably meant that he has been looking at his own gangmembers as potential victims. They are to be picked on in order to instil fear in the rest, andto head off potential insurrection, and he has already delivered a terrifying beating to Boston.But the baby stops Tsotsis violence, not due to some sugary "miracle", but rather because itis an overwhelming distraction. When he orders a young mother, at gunpoint, to breastfeedhis new possession it is a spectacle for which his criminal career has not prepared him.Tsotsi is a positive movie, with a message of redemption, and has a decent faith that theshanty towns of South Africa are not simply places of despair, but communities where povertydoes not rule out the possibility of doing the right thing. The narrative line towards this happyending is perhaps a little straight and leaves you with a sense that real life would be a littlemore messy. None the less, this is a gutsy and heartfelt story.Source: The Guardian, Friday 17 March 2006 – By Paul Bradshaw