Published Mar 01, 2006It's not often you see a film that makes full and brilliant use of the medium. Tsotsi, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and winner of the People's Choice Award at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, stretches each scene to its aural and visual limits. The music acts as a pulse while the screen performs a subtle meditation on identity.
Presley Chweneyagae stars as Tsotsi, a young South African thug who operates in and around Johannesburg's Soweto townships. After he mistakenly abducts a baby during a carjacking, he forces a local mother at gunpoint to feed the infant and though she's sworn to secrecy the authorities are eager to locate Tsotsi, considering his inadvertent abduction and his reputation for violence in the townships.
Tsotsi confronts his past by caring for the child, though the film avoids all contrivances by sticking closely to social realism, fully investigating Tsotsi's emotional recovery and having the dignity to know its subject matter. The screenplay conveys all metaphors and symbols with ease, squeezing every last drop of subtext out of the story.
The first act runs like sepia-soaked noir, letting shadow and light define the psychological world these desperate characters live in; the stakes are set high from the first frame and never come down. The use of colour in the second act is spare and effective, avoiding the condescending spoon-feeding that occurs when films are made for mass consumption. Tsotsi's supporting players are a firestorm of talent, especially Terry Pheto, who plays a young mother willing to risk everything to help Tsotsi's accidental charge.
If you haven't already guessed, Tsotsi is phenomenal. Better than Crash and on par with Live and Become, Tsotsi is a shoe-in for a well-deserved Oscar. (Alliance Atlantis)