Wednesday, August 09, 2006


2005 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Film

Dir: Gavin Hood (A Reasonable Man)

South African adaptation of Athol Fugard's novel about the redemption of a street thug in the Johannesburg slums. My expectations were very high for this film, and I think that contributed to a small sense of let down. The film has a lot going for it, but still left me unclear as to the extraordinary motivations of the characters. This story is the journey of one young man, his social awakening and development of dignity and compassion. While the sequence of events are compelling, the internal narration that no doubt drove the source material is here left absent, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. The cast is not quite up to the task of communicating that information.

A young man jacks a car and shoots the owner, only to find out later that there is an infant in the back seat. His uncertainty over what to do, and the transformation that comes with the realization of the consequences of his actions, provide the substance of the film. At first, Tsotsi came off like a lot of films influenced by exported American gansta' culture mixed with Tarantino-cool, a celebration of thug life and the reality of violence on the streets and in the underworld. But instead of glamorizing such actions, the film takes a hopeful turn, one fitting a nation dealing with the crushing legacy of racism and epidemics of crime and disease. AIDS gets several subtle references, as any film from the world's most infected nation no doubt must.

Hood gives several beautiful shots, almost gratuitously using sunsets and long shots to add beuaty to the slum. His interior work is also noteworthy, especially several scenes where light streams into the protagonist's shack and illuminate the people inside angelically. The score too is really strong, African hip-hop mixing with orchestral pieces to complement to context in which these thugs live.

My critique of Tsotsi is that it never quite crossed the finish line, never really opened a window into the soul of its lead. But the rest of the film is solid. See especially the special feature of alternate endings that demonstrates both the care the filmmakers gave to the narrative and their ability to make the correct decision. Worth your time, especially to support cinema from this part of the world.



Blogger Jeremy noted on 8/10/2006 12:12:00 AM that...

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Blogger Jeremy noted on 8/10/2006 12:13:00 AM that...

My main problem with the movie is that I felt Tsotsi's many gruesome, deplorable acts of violence and disregard far outweighed his meager attempts at redemption. I found little reason to sympathize, forgive, or like the character, poor childhood or not. But maybe forgiveness isn't my thing.

And I was actually relieved/surprised that the movie didn't end as predictably as I expected...but then I watched the alternate endings...  

Blogger paroske noted on 8/10/2006 09:07:00 AM that...

I actually disagree with your first paragraph. To expect Tstotsi to have a Scrooge like "buy me the biggest goose in all of London" conversion would have been artificial. I don't think we walk away thinking Tsotsi is now a good person or saved, just that in his limited range he has found a way to be minimally compassionate. The indecision at the end is testament to how it may not be a big deal for us, but it is for him.

Now, like I said, I wish that internal dialogue could have been communicated better, but the movie's thoughts are in the right place.


Blogger Jeremy noted on 8/13/2006 07:58:00 AM that...

All good points.

It isn't exactly that I felt that his transformation was lacking, but that the movie is almost too effective in establishing how terrible a man he is. By the end, my disgust for him and his behavior was still very fresh, leaving little chance for understanding/sympathy/compassion/etc. Sure, he eventually does the right thing and perhaps there's light at the end of the tunnel, but how much is that worth considering the severity of his previous actions? That's for each viewer to personally decide, of course.