Tsotsi

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Rating: R

Starring:
Presley Chweneyagae as Tsotsi
Mothusi Magano as Boston
Israel Makoe as Tsotsi’s father
Percy Matsemela as Sergeant Zuma
Jerry Mofokeng as Morris
Benny Moshe as Young Tsotsi
Nambitha Mpumlwana as Pumla Dube
Zenzo Ngqobe as Butcher
Kenneth Nkosi as Aap
Thembi Nyandeni as Soekie
Terry Pheto as Miriam
Ian Roberts as Captain Smit
Rapulana Seiphemo as John Dube
Owen Sejake as Gumboot Dlamini
Zola as Fela

Special Features:
Alternate Endings with Optional Commentary by Screenwriter and Director Gavin Hood

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Gavin Hood

The Making of Tsotsi

Feature Commentary with Gavin Hood

Director’s Short Film The Storekeeper

Mdlwembe by Zola – Music Video

About the Soundtrack

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Original Language Track (Tsotsi-Taal)
English and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 94 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD cover:

“Captivating audiences worldwide, this compelling story of crime and redemption has earned countless awards around the globe. On the edges of Johannesburg, Tsotsi’s life has no meaning beyond survival. One night, in desperation, Tsotsi steals a woman’s car. But as he is driving off, he makes a shocking discovery in the backseat. In one moment his life takes a sharp turn and leads him down an unexpected path to redemption … giving him hope for a future he never could have imagined. Tsotsi is an extraordinary portrait of the choices that are made in life and how compassion can endure in the human heart. From Miramax Films, the studio that brings you the best in world cinema (City of God, Amelie, The Chorus).”

Tsotsi is rated R for language and some strong violent content.

The Movie:
While there have been plenty of movies set in South Africa in recent years, “Tsotsi” is a different breed. It’s very much a South African story told from that viewpoint, rather than being a view of the country from outsiders. It’s been almost 12 years since the end of Apartheid, but as Americans, we tend to still associate the country with its separatist regime.

Without completely ignoring the topic, Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Athol Fugard’s 1980 novel, which has virtually no white characters, focuses instead on the problems the country has faced since then: poverty, crime and a a class system that has left a large gap between the wealthy and the likes of the film’s title character, a teenaged orphan who has been forced to live on his own for years. When we meet Tsotsi, he’s leading a vicious street gang who rob and steal to survive, and in a scene right out of “A Clockwork Orange,” he faces down a coup by beating one of them, a former teacher, within an inch of his life. Off on his own, Tsotsi pulls a violent carjacking, only to discover a baby in the backseat. Not telling anyone about his new discovery, Tsotsi brings the tot home and tries to care for it, even threatening a local woman from his shantytown into breastfeeding it. In the meantime, there’s a desperate police search for the baby, while the mother lies in the hospital after being shot.

The idea of a gangster finding and caring for a baby is nothing new, though Hollywood might have used the premise to try to play up the comedic factor, but here, the story idea is used to show the transition of a violent killer into someone finally able to take responsibility for his life and action. That’s really what makes “Tsotsi” such a memorable and worthwhile film.

The main obstacle the film faces, at least at first, is that Tsotsi isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, and he does a lot of things with and without his gang in the first third of the movie that makes you wonder why you’re expected to care what happens to him. At least in Tsotsi’s case, his lack of a moral barometer seems to have a lot to do with his upbringing and lack of strong parental figures. Fortunately, the film gets better as it goes along, the true turning point being when we finally see a flashback to the incident that made Tsotsi run away from home, and that makes things much clearer. Ultimately, it leads up to Tsotsi’s gang returning to the scene of his carjacking, forcing him to make a tough decision about doing what’s right, even if it means he’ll be put in jail.

Obviously, the star of the piece is newcomer Presley Chweneyagae, who does an outstanding job showing both sides of this troubled young man. The way he brings credibility to character’s transformation and actually makes you like him by the end is the true magic of this film. The rest of the cast, mainly consisting of non-actors, isn’t nearly as impressive or memorable, and some of the scenes don’t seem to serve much purpose to the overall story at first, such as Tsotsi’s decision to rob a homeless man in a wheelchair. Most of these start to make more sense as the story comes together later in the film.

While this story could have easily been told in any major city faced by crime and/or poverty, the Johannesburg area of South Africa brings another level to the film, not only because we get to see another side of the country, but also because Gavin Hood takes full advantage of the country’s rich culture. The score is enriched by the driving rhythms of Kwaito music—the area’s version of hip-hop—and we get a suitable taste for the plethora of languages used by various peoples and classes of the region. The cinematography is also quite fantastic, using wide-angle shots to capture the full scope of the Johannesburg setting, especially when you can see the barren wilderness in the foreground and the shantytown teaming with life in the background. Like Fernando “City of God” Meirelles, Gavin Hood is definitely a filmmaker to keep a close eye on.

The Extras:
There’s a pretty good selection of bonus features on this DVD:

Alternate Endings with Optional Commentary by Screenwriter and Director Gavin Hood – There are two alternate endings, both with very different fates for Tsotsi. I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending, but I think the one chosen for the film was the most satisfying and realistic.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Gavin Hood – There are three deleted scenes. The first shows Boston explaining how he ended up a criminal in the shanty town. The second deleted scene hints at a potential romantic future for Tsotsi and the young mother. The final deleted scene is very brief and shows Tsotsi giving money to the crippled man at the subway station.

The Making of Tsotsi – This is your standard ‘making of’ feature. Gavin Hood talks about adapting the book, shooting in South Africa, and other things. The cast are also interviewed and it’s interesting to hear them speaking English.

Director’s Short Film The Storekeeper – This is a very disturbing short film about a storekeeper in rural Africa. After having his store broken into twice, he rigs up a shotgun in the store with tragic results. Unless you like tragic drama, pass on this.

The bonus features are rounded out by your standard feature commentary with Gavin Hood, a music video entitled Mdlwembe by Zola, and a little bit about the soundtrack.

The Bottom Line:
There’s much to admire and appreciate about this South African story, once you can get past the title character’s initial unsympathetic behavior and the lack of professional actors. Once you do, it’s a heartwarming story of redemption sure to win anyone over by the end.

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