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There is a tendency for South African cinema (such as it is) to want to
see itself through the eyes of the world. Hence the many comments such
as "this film could be set in LA" (ie: it's almost as good as an
American movie) As a result, most cinema from South Africa is often
very limited in its artistic ambitions and storytelling usually takes
second place to making sure South Africa "looks good" on the screen so
that "people overseas" will see "our beautiful country" The Australians
used to call this the cultural cringe and it also took them some time
to find their voice.
Tstosti is a wonderfully told piece of cinema set in the distinctive word of black Johannesburg criminals (I say black, because there is a very different world for white criminals)It works because underneath all the bells and whistles of great camera angles, phenomenal acting and- yes- its unique setting lies something much, much more important: A strong, strong story. A story about things that every human on earth can identify with (love and death). This is not a film for "people overseas"- it's a film in which South Africans to see and hear themselves as real people and not as feeble caricatures gleaned from countless Hollywood movies.
It might well be the start of a something great.
Tsotsi is gorgeous, riveting, poignant, and thrilling. Not only is it a first-rate piece of storytelling, but it also takes the viewer into a world of South African poverty and crime that he has never seen before. Director/writer Gavin Hood offers us a tale of tragic redemption and uncommon poetry in a subculture of the most abject immorality. Truly unforgettable.
The only work in recent times to which this movie can be compared is City of God. There, too, the viewer is brought into a world of poverty and crime he probably never knew existed. It is a world so bleak that it forces the viewer to examine his own morality and wonder how much of the civility he takes for granted in his life is merely the luxury of the well fed and comfortable. These characters live on the edge and their primary passion is survival.
What makes Tsotsi, in the end, a finer film than City of God is that it offers a more complex sense of hope; it reminds us in an honest and unsentimental way that inside even the hardest cases there is a soul, which is never beyond redemption
"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.
there is nothing i can really say to tell you why you should go watch
this film right now without spoiling the film, but this film is
powerful, detailed, well shot, written and emotionally grabbing. top
performances by the talent of tsotsi, with the supporting cast all
being equally impressive. This may not be for everyone; its not exactly
art house, but there's enough dexterity and layers in the movie to
scare away the Hollywood-type people. some films which can be compared
to this film are the likes of city of god, even some larry David films
like kids, and bully. in short, its a film which covers misplaced
childhood and troubled adolescence. watch this as soon as you're able
to and enjoy tsotsi.
For South Africans, both resident and in exile, this film is likely to
be a harrowing experience. It shows us some of the consequences of what
we allowed to be done in our name.
Cinematically, the film is superb, partly because it is so understated. It is probably an insight into a way of life all to common in African metropolises. Whilst it shows the way of life in shanty towns and was, I know, filmed in authentic locations, I found myself wondering whether the coloring was just a bit rosy, but that is a very minor criticism.
The director has coaxed a performance from his lead actor which is, I think, a landmark. So much of the performance is visual - he says very little. He is supported by a bevy of other characters which those familiar with South Africa will recognize all to easily.
If you do not have a South African connection, see the movie as an insight into our way of life. See it because it is a story worth telling and therefore worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The ugliness and squalor of Soweto stands in sharp contrast against the
glass and concrete modern buildings of downtown Johannesburg. The
disparity is captured by Gavin Hood and his cinematographer Lance Gewer
in "Tsotsi". The film is based on an Athol Fugard novel we haven't
read, but having seen most of his important plays, it follows this
writer's vision about his homeland.
Tsotsi is a product of the slums. His father is a cruel man who doesn't even allow the young boy to be near his dying mother. She appears to be an AIDS victim, and, in her husband's ignorance he believes it's contagious. Tsotsi grows up fending for himself and the result is a predator who will do anything in order to survive.
This young man enters a life of crime, as witnessed in the opening scenes on the packed train where Tsotsi and his gang surrounds a victim that happens to have displayed his money in public. For the next victim, Tsotsi chooses a woman who is returning home. After shooting her, he takes her car, only to discover later on a young infant has been riding in the back seat.
That boy will be the only way this petty criminal's soul would soften as he begins a bonding with the baby. As he gets frustrated with the care of the infant, he decides to follow a young woman, the mother of a toddler; Tsotsi knows she has the milk the baby needs for nourishment. Miriam, who realizes Tsotsi is the man being hunted by the authorities asks him to let her keep and take care of the baby, but even this hard thug can't part with the baby, who has awakened in him a tender side of his character.
The film shows a good director, Gavin Hood, under control. Mr. Hood got excellent performances all around. Presley Chweneyagae makes an impression as the title character in the movie. Mathusi Magano, is Boston, the man Tsotsi beats savagely, after he crosses him. Terry Pheto is also memorable as the young Miriam, a woman who has lost her own husband to thugs roaming the slums where they live.
Another great asset is the background music heard in the film. It enhances the movie as interpreted by Zola, who also plays Fela, the rival boss of another gang.
At times, "Tsotsi" is hard to sit through because of the violence one sees. For a film from South Africa, this film comes as a surprise because it feels true from beginning to end, thanks to the excellent work of Gavin Hood.
Tsotsi tells the story of a tiny fraction of current township life, contrasting to a pretty normal upper middle class family in SA. It's a story about people, love, life, the choices we make, and situations we are sometimes pushed into. Gavin told it like it is (even though he's living in LA, as a talented professional he has no choice), he still remains a boertjie,(local boy), This is our story, 80% of the Art dept live in the townships, and us Umlungus (Whities) depended on our guys to bring across the authenticity of the township life. The direction is superb, I have had the opportunity to work with Gavin before, so this was a dream come true. The combination of Kwaito and Score was masterfully put together. And for what it's worth, Ian Roberts (white cop) really speaks in vernacular. I am proud to have worked on Tsotsi. Though sad, it is full of hope as well. Proudly South African.
A Jo'burg resident myself it was great to see Jo'burg on screen in one
hot film. I mean to often I get excited by seeing the Jo'burg skyline
on the big screen and then I am sadly disappointed by the following
weak film, not in this case. A great film with a great cast and great
direction. Yes there are similarities to "City of God" but the story is
much smaller and hence more personal; maybe it's because I live in
Johannesburg but I found myself so emotionally caught up in the film
that more then once I had to hold back tears.
Maybe there were some obvious uses of cinematic dramatic vices, yet the film held together all the way to the end and packed a serious punch. The lead actor was brilliant in his role which teetered between the victim and the aggressor constantly and consequently good and evil. A great cameo performance by Presley Chweneyagae. As a near graduate of South African film school this gives me hope for the cinematic future of our country.
The most outstanding feature of the past year in South African cinema
is indeed Gavin Hood's Tsotsi. An South Africa/Great Britain
co-production, Tsotsi, made history at the 2005 Edinburgh Film festival
by becoming the first film in more than seven years to win both the
Standard Life Audience Award for most popular film, and the Michael
Powell Award for Best Film. The film, directed by Gavin Hood, has thus
far won Audience Choice awards at five of the six international
festivals it has entered.
The latest triumph is the People's Choice Award at the Starz Denver International Film Festival, where Tsotsi was joint winner along with Mrs Henderson Presents.
This follows a win at the St. Louis International Film Festival in Washington. Previous wins were at the Los Angeles AFI Film Festival (joint winner with Canada's C.R.A.Z.Y), Toronto International Film Festival and Edinburgh.
Ironically, Tsotsi did not get the main prize at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival in November 2005 although it clinched the Critics Jury Award for Best South African Film, and lead actor Presley Chweneyagae winning the Best Actor award.
On 15 November Tsotsi was nominated for the European Film Academy Non-European Film 2005 - Prix Screen International.
Based on the only novel written by Athol Fugard, the film brilliantly depicts the story of a young boy orphaned at the age of nine and forced to fight his way to adulthood alone in the townships of Johannesburg. In this harsh world he inhabits, Tsotsi lives forever in the moment. An impromptu car jacking resulting in the accidental kidnapping of an infant, and forces him to confront his own humanity. The film is an emotive and very powerful journey in which the central character learns to confront the demons of his past while also coming to terms with the reality of his own destiny. In the process director Gavin Hood looks at a large part of South African society which has been left on the margin of the new post-apartheid society where class differences, also between blacks, are becoming more of a reality. Tsotsi has been submitted as South Africa's official entry in the foreign film category for the 2006 Academy Awards en let's hope we will finally be able to celebrate in 2006.
Seldom do I see a film that makes me want to start babbling about it to
everyone I meet. I even registered just to vote and to say a few words.
Beautiful pictures, simple story and one tremendously talented actor by the name of Presley. This man is a national treasure to be cherished as a god of African cinematography. I had the feeling that he could make even the worst movie with the most tragic script into Shakespeare. Don't let the world forget this actor, because seldom do you see such raw talent, so much body and facial expression and so much depth. And he probably doesn't even have a formal education.
Congratulations to Gavin Hood, the Polish producers and above all to Lance Gewers, who I think should win Camerimage.
There was a question at the press conference, where one of the press seemed almost disgusted that Gewers did the unfashionable and instead of filming from the hand like in "City of God" he decided for the static approach. I hate fundamentalism of any sorts and it seems that right now everybody thinks hand-filming to be the only way to go.
I agree with Gewers: If a film is shot from the hand then the story stops being about the people and becomes about 'technical tricks'. Lance Gewers, I salute you.
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