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In Johannesburg, a small time criminal, Tsotsi, is a teenager without feelings, hardened by his tough life. After a series of violent gang hits, Tsotsi hijacks a car. However, whilst driving, Tsotsi finds that there is a baby on the back seat. He brings the baby to his house in the slum. The next six days bring about a change in him that couldn't be foreseen. Written by
based on the review by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A Moving Experience of South African Sight, Sound and Performance of Universal Humanity
"Tsotsi" should be seen on a big screen in order to fully appreciate its varied and intense look, performances and sound.
First the look. Even as writer/director Gavin Hood has updated Athol Fugard's novel to the new South Africa of an integrated police force, upscale blacks who can demand their attention vs. abandoned AIDS orphans, the settings in Johannesburg vs. Soweto with their sharp and horrific contrasts are not something American audiences have seen and almost seem as if they are from a futuristic post-apocalyptic vision. Each character is dramatically and very emotionally defined by the surroundings we see, where they once or currently live.
Not only is Lance Gewer's cinematography from day to night, from barren openness of no man's land to the closed-in dense township simply gorgeous, he is particularly good at capturing the luster of dark skin tones swathed in colorful clothes. Many scenes, particularly the excruciatingly violent ones, are heightened with dramatic lighting.
The actors grab the screen even amidst this extreme mise en scene. Presley Chweneyagae as the titularly nicknamed thug is not just physically charismatic, but the changes in his voice are gripping in communicating the extreme range of feelings he experiences over the few days the film takes place. This is a road trip through his soul, from flash backs to existential acts from his depths to finding his humanity (and his real name). His relationship with a cruelly accidental foundling infant has no comparison to the dozens of films, usually comedies, made around the world about an irresponsible guy stuck with a kid and how a child can be father to man. While his picaresque physical and psychic journey is almost as theatrical in its coincidences as "Crash", the tension is built up as it is unpredictable in each confrontation whether he will react violently or redemptively.
Just when I thought his side kicks were undifferentable, even they turned out to have complicated stories that were well portrayed, particularly Mothusi Magano as "Boston".
Terry Pheto as "Miriam" is the very essence of woman as bringer forth of life, from her artistic talents to her nourishing milk. She is beautiful and strong. It is rare to see maternal love so powerfully portrayed on film as by the women here.
The soundtrack of local South African music is wonderfully atmospheric, and I'm dancing in front of the computer while listening to the CD now. Particularly outstanding are the tracks by local kwaito artist Zola which uniquely combine local and international hip hop into a new sound, as well as tracks with the inspiring voice of Vasi Mahlasela over choirs, which recalls Ladysmith Black Mambazo. With an attention to detail in the music, the middle class family listens to soft R & B on their car radio, in comparison to the township sound that surrounds the Soweto residents.
Bravo for the very legible subtitles throughout and translated musical lyrics, even as we can occasionally pick out some pidgin English amidst the township jive.
Nice to see that an art house in Manhattan could attract a significant African-American audience for this film even before it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
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