by December Lambeth on March 24, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Amongst the February dump of really bad films (released exactly one month ago in a limited release, out today in wide release), comes Tsotsi a film with more quality than most of the streamline Oscar Nominees. Beautifully shot and clear storyline, Tsotsi takes the audience through 6 days of a young gang leader’s transformation in the ghetto of Johannesburg. South Africa’s foreign film Oscar nomination is violent and gritty, but in the same form it’s very graceful and pure.

3 & 1/2 Stars

From the production notes:
“The word “tsotsi” means a black urban criminal, a street thug or gang member in the vernacular of black townships in South Africa. Its origin is possibly a corruption of the Sesotho word “tsotsa” meaning to dress flashily, zoot suits being originally associated with tsotsis. A male is called a tsotsi and a female tsotsi is called a noasisa. Tsotsis are usually part of the urban youth gang society that grew up on the streets of the ghetto. Their history goes back to the famous youth gangs of the 1930’s in the Soweto township area outside Johannesburg.”

Following the tracks of a young thug as he makes one bad choice after another, leading to a catch 22 he can never escape, or can he? Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) is a leader of a small group of young men who spend their time robbing, drinking and playing the dice, their way of leading the life that was dealt to them. Tsotsi starts to realize his need to escape the destruction that is controlling his life and destroying others, but not until he car jacks a lady and ends up with her baby. Almost abandoning this child with the car, he goes back and carries him home in a paper sack. Tsotsi makes an attempt of taking care of the child on his own, as if it’s a pet, but realizes he cannot provide adequate food or shelter. He holds a local girl at gun point to breastfeed the child and goes back to rob the home he stole the car from to gather up the child’s belongings. In that moment, he shoots one of his “brothers” to save the father’s life and thus a big leap in his transformation. In a slow progression to doing what’s right, but still doing it wrong, Tsotsi begins to come into his own and starts to take on responsibilities for his own actions. Before he blamed a poor childhood, a mean father and living in concrete tubes outside of the township, poor and destitute, as his crutch for reasoning. Tsotsi now realizes, that it’s his own actions that can create a better quality of life for himself and others around him. He has a good heart and has taken care of all of his “brothers” at one time or another, but still wreaks havoc on society. Still robs, thieves and treats others around him with little to no regard.

Progressively he cares for the child and starts to find a fondness towards the young widowed mother, Miriam (Terry Pheto), who eventually talks him into returning the baby. The ending of the film is the most moving of all. He returns the child, but gets caught between the mother and father he stole him from and the police. Giving up the baby with tears in his eyes and the hope for a second chance is a very powerful moment, does he get a second chance or is there no changing what life has handed to you?


Capturing a young audience with both rich and humanistic characters and a hip South African Kwaito artist, Zola, producer Peter Fudakowski played his cards right. Intriguing and luring, Tsotsi, keeps the audience completely attached to the character. Creates a sense of empathy for a thug that should deserve no forgiveness, but rises above it all and earns forgiveness and hopefully a second chance. Based on the novel by Athol Fugard, Tsotsi is set in modern times for expense reasons and to prove even a post apartheid South Africa still has it’s problems, but can rise above it all just like the character. Tsotsi was written in 1980 with a setting in the South African apartheid and a character that isn’t given a second chance at the end, a producer choosing to take the meaning of the story more over the exact story makes a more successful film. A few shots too close to the eye line to keep the audience tide with the lead character are a little over done, but can be forgiven for the richness surrounding those shots. The film is much about poverty vs. wealth and violence vs. compassion; the production design gives us the contrast even in the ghetto between Tsotsi’s dark rich and bare shack compared to Miriam’s warm, soft and inviting surroundings. The music compliments every scene and the actors bring out their best over coming some very rough and emotional moments.

Tsotsi is a rich and powerfully emotional film that will move the audience and aspire even those who may not agree with the quality of story.

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