Starring: Presley Chweneyagae
Director: Gavin Hood
AUDIENCES don’t get much opportunity to see films from South Africa.
Even the two films made for international audiences on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, John Boorman’s In My Country (with Juliet Binoche and Samuel L. Jackson) and Tom Hooper’s Red Dust (with Hilary Swank and Chiwitel Eijiofor) received limited cinema release.
So did Drum, an award-winning film about the stands of the magazine Drum in the 1950s and its reporting of atrocities.
South African directors have made a number of films about the aftermath of the end of apartheid and the troubles with young people in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
It is providence that Tsotsi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. It gets the chance to be seen more widely.
Tsotsi was adapted by writer-director Gavin Hood (A Reasonable Man with Nigel Hawthorne) from the only novel by celebrated South African playwright Athol Fuggard.
It has been updated to the present – which is not too different from the past when the young men of the townships emulated the gangster life.
The film opens with some brutal killings on a city train and a robbery with dire consequences in a wealthy suburban home.
David (a strong performance by Presley Chweneyagae) is simply known as Tsotsi (a word for thug).
He and his gang have no qualms about brutal treatment when they mug and rob.
When Tsotsi steals a car which contains a baby, his feelings and his conscience are challenged.
He remembers his past, his mother’s illness and death and his drunken father’s violence.
He brutally enlists the help of a young widow with a child to feed the foundling.
Ultimately, he has to make choices for or against the gang, for or against a sense of decency.
The film is well crafted, shot and edited. The local musical score gives it an extra beat and an authentic feel.
Maybe, the plot is in some ways predictable. Maybe the characters are somewhat stereotyped.
But, the film is so well put together, with so much feeling and intensity, that it works very well in communicating to a worldwide audience.