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Aug 25, 2006

Movie of the week - Tsotsi

South Africans were on a high earlier this year when the announcement that the home-grown, 'proudly SA' production of 'Tsotsi' had won the Oscar this year for best foreign film. It was the first time that a SA film (or African - I could be wrong) has won an award at the Oscars. As is typically the case, all the problems of crime and corruption were forgotten for some time and the focus was rather on a significant achievement. Example instances of such phases have been the winning of the 1995 Rugby WC and 1996 African Cup of Nations, breaking the 400 run barrier (again) to chase down the highest cricket score in history, winning the right to host the 2010 Football WC.

As you can see, most are sports-related. Going beyond the fields and arenas to the cinema world was a significant leap for the SA film industry. Only Charlize Theron's Oscar for best actress (in Monster) had ever put SA on the international film stage.

Ok, back to the movie. I watched Gavin Hood's Tsotsi ('thug' in street language) after the awards were announced, so it was with a bit of anticipation (always a bad start - especially when I watch Hindi movies). The result was a provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable work of art. I think the film made more relevance to me as I could relate to most of what was being relayed by the production. At the time, the SA film industry had hardly any reputation for producing quality movies - this one was a pleasant surprise.

The movie is based on Athol Fugard's play by the same name, but adapted from the 80s to make more relevance to life in SA today. It tells the story of the life of Tsotsi, a faceless teenage criminal who, through events in his life, evolves towards an ordinary citizen. It touches on a number of themes close to the heart of someone living here - Aids, domestic violence, crime, the growing divide between classes of black families, etc..

The soundtrack was a major highlight. The mixing of SA-style Kwaito music (at the right places) really gave that authentic, downtown feel. Cinematography was excellent. I enjoyed the creativity of shots in establishing a scene as well as during the portrayal of the emotions of a character (especially Tsotsi's at the climax). The screenplay will also get my thumbs-up for its adaptation, dialogues and the all-important climax.

But its the excellent role of Tsotsi and the actor that played it (Presley Chweneyagae) that gripped my attention till the end. The way that the character is peeled away from the image of a hardcore gangster to a ordinary human being with feeling was a real treat to watch. Towards the end I was hoping (spoiler warning!) Tsotsi would not get shot (apparently he does get shot, but only after the end credits have rolled).

Well done to Gavin Hood and his cast & crew for bring out a real and passionate film without falling for the temptation of commercial filming. I enjoyed the fact that the focus fell entirely on the slumlife in SA without a hint of the visual extravaganza of modern Johannesburg. The movie is now the highest grossing SA film ever, and apparently inspired real-life gangsters to turn a new leaf (don't ask! :) ). Presley Chweneyagae became a star overnight and has featured in a couple of commercials since. New film cities have been planned in Cape Town (SA's cultural capital).

Pros: the kwaito soundtracks, Presley Chweneyagae, theme, the climax
Cons: very few. I could possibly mention the additional characters that failed to add to the central plot (like the disabled homeless guy on the wheelchair).

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