Tsotsi (review)

Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film

It’s fiction, based on a novel by Athol Fugard, but Gavin Hood’s devastating vision of harsh life in the townships of Johannesburg is, in a completely different way, as damning an indictment of the brutality of human existence across too much of Africa as Hubert Sauper’s documentary Darwin’s Nightmare. Tsotsi (the intense Presley Chweneyagae) lives in a tin shack without running water, and with electricity supplied by car battery, but these physical deprivations are nothing to the emotional ones he suffers under. He is so removed from the simple, crucial fundamentals required of a decent life — not only has he no family and no true friends, he doesn’t even know his name; “Tsotsi” means, merely, “thug” — that it’s hardly surprising then that when he finds himself in possession of a baby not his (it was in the backseat of a car he hijacked out from under the owner) he doesn’t even think twice about keeping it, as a sort of pet, perhaps. The slow dawning on him that he is not capable of caring for the squalling creature is the beginning of his eventually rejoining of the world of kindness and civilization to be found even in the squalid townships, and even though he forces his way into the life of Miriam (the luminous Terry Pheto), a single mother with a young infant herself, in the hopes that she will help him with the baby, he has already begun to rediscover his own humanity. Hood has given us a film that is by turns shocking and inspiring, a dash of hope in a world of misery.

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