The South African film ‘Tsotsi’ is outstanding cinema. The film by Gavin Hood, based on Athol Fugard’s 1960’s novel, deservedly won the best foreign film award at this years Academy Awards.
Tsotsi’s story is that he is a 19 year old black man who has grown up in the grimmest of black ghettos on the outskirts of Johannesburg. His mother died early and his father wasn’t around for him. Because of the poverty Tsotsi resorted to crime early. Now, at 19, he has his own street gang. Tsotsi is a great survivor, the ultimate tough guy, with a propensity for violence. He has become a bit of a psychopath, unable to feel anything, or have compassion for his fellow man.
Tsotsi’s fate seems to be sealed. He will end up in jail for a very long time or his destiny will be to be found dead in a gutter, having been murdered by some rival gang member.
Then an event happens that turns his life around. Tsotsi hijacks a BMW late one night, as a beautiful black woman is about to drive into the garage of her highly fortified house. After he has driven off he finds out that there is a baby in the back seat. Knowing that he can’t return the baby, he decides to take him home to the ghetto and look after him.
The struggles that Tsotsi has in looking after the baby produce some of the films most haunting scenes. Having no experience with babies before, Tsotsi does what he can. We see him changing the baby with pieces of newspaper, or coming home one day to find the baby covered with ants because he left a can of carnation milk beside him.
As tough as it is for Tsoti, finding the baby is a positive change for him. Looking after the baby reconnects him with his humanity. And as more of his human side comes out, there is more of a chance for him to create a different, more positive destiny for himself.
Gavin Hood’s vision is well realised. Hood gets great performances from his cast. Presley Chweneyagae is tremendous as Tsotsi. In the other main role Terry Pheto is great as the nursing mother who Tsotsi abducts to feed the baby, and then befriends. Lance Gewer’s cinematography is evocative as was the films hip hop soundtrack.