Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"There is not a hint of artificiality, studio mock-ups, or designer poverty here."

After a spate of Hollywood movies, featuring South African townships as the backdrop to stories of courage under fire (from Afrikaner racist cops - who else?), it comes as a shock to find a movie about displaced kids in a black slum, with only one white man (a no-longer-outwardly-racist cop), playing a minor support role.

In the same way that the youthful energy and spontaneous violence of Fernando Meirelles' City Of God burst through the ghetto stereotype four years ago, so too does Tsotsi break the mould of sentimentality as an antidote to discrimination.

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Love is all you need. It seems so simple, although harder if you have never known it. Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) is a teenager. He could be 14, going on 15. He has a place of his own, a one room, rusty, corrugated iron shed. He's a gangster with a gun and he doesn't let anyone close, not even his crew, his friends. His mother died of Aids. His father dumped him. He views Joburg, the world he knows, as a hunting ground.

Into this life of crime comes an innocent baby. Tsotsi shoots a woman in an affluent suburb and steals her car. The baby is in the back. Rather than leave it, or dispose of it, he takes the baby in a carrier bag to his shed. He has no food, no milk, no diapers, no clue and dare not share his secret with anyone.

How he copes and what he does is the basis of Athol Fugard's original story and Gavin Hood's film. To say that he discovers love and it changes him would simplify a situation, wrought with uncertainty.

Tsotsi's character has been distorted by circumstance and deprivation. Whether this unexpected responsibility will resurrect dormant emotions in a boy whose comprehension of morality begins and ends with the barrel of a gun is anyone's guess. Hood keeps it that way, constantly unpredictable.

There is not a hint of artificiality, studio mock-ups, or designer poverty here and the performances by (one assumes) mostly non-professional actors are totally believable, with Chweneyagae outstanding in his ability to suggest a damaged psyche, desperately seeking salvation.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2006
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An outstanding, highly moral tale of a young South African thug's redemption.
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Gator MacReady ****1/2

Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Gavin Hood, Athol Fugard

Starring: Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe, Zola, Rapulana Seiphemo

Year: 2005

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/South Africa


EIFF 2005

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