Tsosti (2005)

May 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Presley Chweneyagae as the titular 'Tsotsi'

Adapted by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Athol Fugar

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe and Rapulana Seiphemo

Tsotsi is in many ways a prototypical Foreign crime saga of a youth criminal trying to figure out who he is under extreme circumstances that drastically alter his everyday existence in a matter of seconds. It’s also a smart, thoughtful examination of the cultural dichotomy between the poor, desperate people living in tin shacks in a poverty stricken shanty town and the elite, wealthy people who live just a few miles away in western-style houses, driving luxury cars and wearing suits and drinking fancy wine as they discuss world events, while the shanty town folk struggle to make enough to afford the next day’s meal.

Tsosti is a small-fry gang leader who only knows one way of getting what he needs- violence. He can’t help himself. If he needs something or wants something he beats you or puts a gun in your face, no matter what the situation. After a particularly bad afternoon of violence, he stages a violent car jacking, only to discover a baby in the back seat upon his escape. His conscience gets the best of him and without word of explanation, he adopts the child as his own, making poor judgements about how to care for the child as he awkwardly explores his more humane side. He studies the less fortunate people around him, including a crippled man with little means who somehow seems to enjoy his life and maintains his pride. This fascinates Tsotsi, as does a friendly neighborhood mother whom he needs help from but struggles to express himself humanely.

It’s a tricky character to pull off, both as an actor as the protagonist in the story, but Gavin Hood does a good job of not sensationalizing or making the character deeper than he is and star Presley Chweneyagae imbues his character with strange sense of honor and humanity, like a wild animal that is good at heart but whose defensive mechanisms prevent them from ever being in complete control of their violent impulses. His performance is mostly silent, physical, with a lot his acting coming from his face. He does a great job of this, looking tough but expressing the vulnerability that is fighting to escape from within him.

The beauty of it is that Tsotsi has no clue what he is doing with the child, but like everything else in his life, he just does it, with no end game in sight, possibly hoping for some form of redemption for all his past transgressions, but he doesn’t seem to know. The film does a wonderful job of exploring this lost soul with a good side to him that struggles to get out despite his violent nature and seeing how his selfish journey impacts those around him and the people looking for the child.

Tsosti is one of the more thoughtful foreign crime sagas to come out in recent years.

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