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A movie directed by Gavin Hood.

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The Gradual Ascension to Manhood and Decency

  • Aug 4, 2006
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TSOTSI is a jewel of a film, well deserving the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2005. Though set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the story is unfortunately so universal that the film could have been made in any country in the world: the lost children of abusive parents who survive life by relying on crime fill the streets of the poor neighborhoods of all major cities. TSOTSI is a tragedy but it carries a sense of hope and redemption that makes it a powerful statement indeed.

Tsotsi - translated, means 'Thug'- (Presley Chweneyagae) is an amoral youth who heads a gang of four: Boston (Mothusi Magano), Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), and Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe). The gang steals and in general leads a life of dangerous existence, a life that abruptly alters when the gang robs and kills a gentle older man on the subway. They are on the run now and Tsotsi isolates himself further when he brutally beats Boston. He descends further into the abyss when he steals a car in the wealthy neighborhood, shooting the woman driving, and then discovering that in the back seat is an infant. His childhood flashes before his eyes and he finally shows a degree if buried decency when he takes the child with him as he abandons the stolen vehicle. Young and inexperienced in child care (his own childhood was riddled with hate and abuse), he seeks help from a young woman Miriam (Terry Pheto) who has an infant of her own (with no father) and serves as a wet nurse for the child. The manner in which Tsotsi gradually reconciles his bad life with his nascent response to recognizing kindness and salvation advances the story to its conclusion.

There is far more to the story than this short synopsis would indicate: there are levels of probing into the mind of the youthful criminal and the making of a gangster and the interaction among thieves and the changes that situations can alter that are beautifully written by Director Gavin Hood based on the Athol Fugard novel. The script is terse and much is left to the physical expressions of the characters, each acted to perfection by a stunning cast. The outsider living situation of these people is filmed with tremendous atmosphere and creativity by cinematographer Lance Gewer and the musical score by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian serves to support the mood and action well. This is a tough movie to watch because of the reality of the issues: this is a superlative film to experience for the message it offers and for the wholly unforgettable acting of young Presley Chweneyagae and Terry Pheto. In Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans with English subtitles. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, August 06

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More Tsotsi reviews
review by . April 19, 2010
HEY, Thug, What Do You Have in That Paper Bag?
Winner of the 2005 Best Foreign Language film award in the Oscars, writer/director Gavin Hood’s “TSOTSI” is about a thug (Tsotsi means exactly that in its local dialect) who is seemingly cold, emotionless and yet, finds a shot at redemption when he finds himself in a very compromising situation. The film was freely adapted on the novel with the same name by Athol Fugard. The film is set in a Soweto Slum in South Africa.      Tsotsi (Benny Moshe)is a young man with …
Quick Tip by . March 11, 2010
Powerful, compelling portrayal of a slice of real life.
review by . March 07, 2010
I rented and watched "Tsotsi" because I had just read the novel. I read the novel because I had just seen a stage production of a play by Athol Fugard. I suppose that, if and when a TV series depicting the later life of Tsotsi/David is produced, I'll watch that too.     The play was the best. The acting was superb. The script was brilliant, though I personally can't follow Fugard into his religious ecstasy. The novel was an early, unfinished effort by Fugard -- very powerful …
review by . December 27, 2007
Yes, I knew I was having my heart tugged, occasionally rather forcefully. Tsotsi, with a powerful performance by Presley Chweneyagae in the lead role, is a story about a young man who has become tougher than nails, and just as piercing in his hardened cruelty, and how within six days he finds some still tender places in his buried-deep heart.     There are no surprise twists in this plot, but I don't need surprises to enjoy a movie. I'm not even sure I bought into how the story …
review by . December 11, 2006
'Tsotsi' is a great story--not only because of the universality of love gone wrong and the experience of jaundiced youth, but it is also a nice update to post-apartheid Johanesberg, South Africa. The title character is a tense and tough member of a group of criminals who hangs out at a local bar and goes to rich neighborhoods to rob vulnerable mansions under the protection of iron gates. Tsotsi is quiet with an undercurrent of raw violence that is ready to erupt at the drop of a hat. At one point, …
review by . August 25, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
This movie falls into the category of art rather than entertainment. The music, acting, and story blend together to form a portrait of a young man (tsotsi) in trouble. The interesting thing is that the director does not decide for you whether the young man is good and whether he will be redeemed. But, he does take you on a very emotional journey.    Definitely something to check out if you are interested in going beyond the stale Hollywood fare.
review by . August 18, 2006
`Tsotsi' is one gorgeous and thrilling film. 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 one might not know existed. Director/writer Gavin Hood offers us a tale of tragic redemption and uncommon poetry in a subculture of the most abject immorality.    The actors here were phenomenal and their performances were both realistic and believable. Natural talented Presley Chweneyagae , as Tsotsi, …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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About this movie


In Gavin Hood's South African drama (an Oscar nominee for best foreign film), the nonactor Presley Chweneyagae plays Tsotsi, a hooded, toughened gang leader in a Johannesburg shantytown who kills for money and beats his friend for challenging his dignity. When Tsotsi shoots a woman for her car and finds that he has unwittingly absconded with her baby, he is struck with a dilemma: what to do with the baby? This would be interesting if Tsotsi's choice were not immediately clear. In a film depicting a seemingly lawless society, where women are decent and men are helpless or derelict without them, Tsotsi's painful attempts to care for an infant seem not revelatory but calculated. Curiously styled, with rap-video camera moves giving way to sensitive closeups, this reductive story of redemption milks the sentimentality, rather than the profundity, born of an extreme change of heart. In Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans.
Copyright © 2006The New Yorker
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Director: Gavin Hood
Screen Writer: Athol Fugard, Gavin Hood
DVD Release Date: July 18, 2006
Runtime: 94 minutes
Studio: Miramax
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