Presley Chweneyagae plays the Tsostsi, which in Zulu means a criminal. The story follows this Tsotsi in his gangsterish world of women, drugs, and murder. The story essentially revolves around a baby that Tsotsi has kidnapped accidentally, while hi-jacking a car in an upper class part of town. He spends the entire movie deciding what to do with the baby and in the end gives the baby back to its rightful mother. He goes through a lot of self-induced complications on the way with his two gangster friends, Aap (Kennith Nkosi) and Boston (Mothusi Magano) who eventually end up slowing down Tsotsi, or becoming hindrances through Tsotsi’s eyes. You will see the darkness and sinister ways of the main character after the first fifteen minutes of the film.
The story is set in Alexander, South Africa, a very appropriate setting for the dichotomy of life and death and the vicious circle the Johannesburgers have to live in, in order to survive. Directed by Gavin Hood, who is well known for A Reasonable Man and Rendition, with a perfect job in showcasing the city and its people for their true identities. As a South African I suppose I feel more inclined to like the movie, but that’s rarely the case for most; this movie reflects on many issues and life choices that everyday people have to make. With many aspects of the film being of professional standard, including cinematography, casting, a script full of human interest, and wardrobe, it is easy to see why this R30 million rand film won an Oscar for best Foreign Film in 2005.
To the way people are shown South Africa, or a city like Johannesburg that has been controversial and been the focal point of crime and corruption for years. It shows the good and the bad and is true to the viewers and to the people behind the scenes and the the people who inspired the story. The first time I watched Tsotsi, I was irritated for the first thirty minutes, especially at the way in which the Tsostsi talks and shows complete disregard, which made me take an instant disliking to the character and to the way Director Gavin Hood showcased Johannesburg. But I changed after those thirty minutes; maybe it was part of the great script, but I started easing into the movie and really appreciating it. I suppose my maturity level isn’t where it should be.
Also a toast to the attention to detail, in the shebeens, in the streets, and inside the shacks themselves; I was never second guessing the exact location where I was, I was never correcting the set designer or continuity person in my head for silly details in the mise-en-scene, which ultimately shows the attention to detail implemented by the Director and his team in order to really place this movie in its correct setting, both creatively, functionally, and chronologically.
Tsotsi with the baby in a shopping bag, overlooking Johannesburg city.
The supporting actors. Not to say they were bad actors, but two of the main supporting actors did not quite cut it for me, perhaps due to the serious tone of the film and the demand for real acting. It seems hard to say but many South African actors come from basic TV backgrounds and very low budget films, perhaps a link they make psychologically, so maybe a confidence issue or a fear to disappoint and therefore an over-thinking of their role for each individual supporting actor comes about. Other than that, no other beers shall be given to this film.
The boys, the real tsotsis, drinking and gambling when not out committing crimes.
My final verdict on Tsotsi… great film. I feel that it was fortunate to have won the Academy Award that year, especially with the competition. Who will be happy with the movie? Women with children, many adults who have been exposed to crime and want to see what crime does at home, and definitely people who have been wronged and who have done wrong in their life. If you watch movies for the hidden messages and analogies that are there to make you judge yourself, this movie is great. If you watch movies because they’re entertaining and you enjoy the content, this movie is still great. Make the best of it and if you don’t enjoy it, so what?
Tsotsi is one of the most iconic films ever made in South Africa simply because of all the heads it turned, the audience it reached, and the millions of South Africans it made proud by bringing back an Oscar.
Do a Shot: every time our main Tsotsi commits a crime
Have a Double Tequila Shot: when we see the Johnnesburg skyline
and, Have a Healthy Sip of your Current Drink: when we hear a song in Xhosa