Friday, March 31, 2006


It’s ironic that films dealing with issues of social deprivation and marginalised communities tend to be shown mainly in select arthouse cinemas and are thus seen primarily by members of the educated middle classes who generally have little or no understanding of the lifestyles depicted in such films. They rarely become box office hits and therefore fail to reach a mass audience – i.e. the type of people they aim to portray. It's therefore easy to make an uninformed judgment without coming across as patronising, but anyway here goes:

Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi is the story of the eponymous young thug in the Johannesburg ghettoes and the crisis of conscience which develops when he steals a car after shooting the driver, only to find a baby in the backseat. The young actor Presley Chweneyagae puts in a convincing performance as the title role in his first film.

The concept of post-apartheid South Africa as a country of glaring inequalities is very much in evidence. Visual symbolism, particularly the contrast between the gleaming office blocks of downtown Johannesburg and the squalor of the townships with the omnipresent spectre of AIDS hanging over society accompanied by an emotive soundtrack is used to great effect. We are presented with the law of the jungle in the townships and the cheapness of life where crime and gangsterism seem to be the only means of survival. The uncompromising brutality of existence here is effectively portrayed, but the film is spoiled somewhat by excessive sentimentalism, particularly towards the emotional climax. There are certain parallels with Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine and the films of Ken Loach, although the Parisian banlieues seem luxurious compared with the abject poverty of Soweto's corrugated iron huts. The Brazilian social thriller City of God is perhaps a more apt comparison.

Tsotsi is constantly haunted by flashbacks from his past. Images of his violent, abusive father and a traumatic childhood of sleeping rough in a concrete pipe help provide an insight into the formation of his character. However the outpouring of emotion triggered by these memories becomes hard to stomach as the obvious moral message unfolds.

Not a bad film overall, but I’m sure there were others more deserving of the Oscar for best foreign language film.


Fence said...

I quite enjoyed Tsotsi. Caught it in Cineworld, so not only arthouse cinemas :)

Yes the story has been done before, but I was quite impressed by the actors. And didn't really think it was overly sentinmental, apart from the bit about the dog.

CW said...

It certainly showed some promise. I think Chweneyagae and Hood have successful acting and directorial careers ahead of them.

Jimmy Porter said...

I saw it last night.

I didn't think it was a great film.

One theme came to mind, why does every film that has ever won best foreign film at the Oscars have to be shot in Holywood style?

The gangster music, the short sharp fast editing techniques, it was shot just like a film about LA gangsters in the hood.

City of God, which is a far superior film to Tsotsi, at least developed some new directing techniques.

That's my two (Euro) cents anyway.