Directed by: Gavin Hood | 94 minutes | drama, crime | Actors: Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano, Israel Makoe, Percy Matsemela, Jerry Mofokeng, Benny Moshe, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Zenzo Ngqobe, Kenneth Nkosi, Thembi Nyandeni, Terry Pheto, Ian Roberts, Rapulana Seiphemo, Owen Sejake, Zola
In the Johannesburg slum where Tsotsi and his friends Boston, Monkey and Butcher live, everyone has heard about this young criminal. The hard-working residents who fight for a fair living fear him, the rich gangsters with pimped cars laugh at him for not being able to drive. Everyone has an opinion about this boy and his gang. But nobody really knows him. In fact, even his friends don’t know about his past, let alone his real name. Tsotsi has called himself “crook” or “bastard” in order to hide his childhood.
With this South African production, director Gavin Hood has succeeded in bringing Athol Fugard’s novel of the same name to the canvas in a beautiful way. With a great eye for environments, he creates atmospheric panoramas of the shacks and shows the many contrasts that can be found in South Africa: skyscrapers and shacks and wealth and poverty. ‘Tsotsi’ doesn’t just stay with portraying these contrasts: the film also explains why and in what way the lives of young South Africans are shaped from their starting point. With the emphatic message that hope brings life, and that there is a chance for everyone.
An extremely violent but unnoticed robbery in the metro in one of the first scenes breaks up the Tsotsi gang. Boston, a failed teacher, finds it unacceptable what the gang has done and in a drunken mood he forces Tsotsi to tell something about his past. Decency, that’s what life is all about according to Boston. And Tsotsi, unwilling to hear about it, beats up his friend Boston and flees. A beautiful scene in which images of Tsotsi as a boy of about twelve and Tsotsi as he is now overlap, both on the run, both desperate.
The great thing about Tsotsi is that, despite confronting images of often extremely violent events, the film does not try to justify anything. The violence suddenly arises through fast-paced images reminiscent of ‘Cidade de Deus’ (2002, Kátia Lund, Fernando Meirelles), and what remains are the consequences and remorse that in the quiet moments of the film create an intense sense of intimacy with the main characters. From the moment when Tsotsi steals a car and finds a three-month-old baby in it, the film is also more about the relationship between people and the way they view life in the shacks.
Tsotsi realizes that life as a gangster has no future, and what’s more, his friend Boston’s words about decency are still running through his head. He decides to raise the baby himself and a bond develops between him and Miriam, the woman he initially forces to breastfeed his baby. While he first tries his best to keep the baby hidden and still behaves like a criminal, a crippled man at the station makes him realize that there is always hope, and Tsotsi realizes that it is precisely his dark side where he is. should be ashamed of it.
The true strength of ‘Tsotsi’ is neither in the theme nor in the direction. It is the authentic atmosphere that the film evokes through the use of ‘Tsotsi-Taal’, local actors and actresses and above all the South African music that supports the film. The local ‘Kwaito’ music, a sometimes somewhat aggressive form of street rap, adds energy to violent scenes of brawls and robberies, and the more spiritual sound of Vusi Mahlasela dominates in the quiet moments and fits perfectly with close-ups of a very emotional Tsotsi at the end of the movie.
Let’s talk about decency then. Boston blames his friends for not knowing this word, for not even being able to spell it. According to him, their world consists of violence, aggressiveness and having no respect for others. Actually, that’s what this movie is all about. Decency, hope and fight for a fair living. And for those who really don’t know how to spell that: ‘Tsotsi’ shows that letter by letter …