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Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa

Produced by Peter Fudakowski

Directed by Gavin Hood

Screenplay by Gavin Hood Based on the novel by Athol Fugard

There is an infinity of things to marvel about when it comes to babies but I think one of the most marvelous and wonderful things is the ability of a baby to transform people. Babies make us want to be better people, if for no other reason than they turn those huge eyes on us, eyes filled with trust and for most of us, thats all it takes. TSOTSI is about the redemption of a frighteningly brutal and vicious young man whose spirit has been broken and how a baby is the catalyst for his spiritual reawakening. TSOTSI won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year. Not having seen a whole lot of Foreign Language Films this year I cant say how the competition stacked up against TSOTSI but I have a hard time thinking that any one of them was better than this one. On the surface its a simple story but there are so many other things going on so many different levels that when the movie is over and you turn it over in your head you realize that it was quite profound.

Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) lives in Soweto, a community of ragged shacks in the shadow of the gleaming skyscrapers of Johannesburg. Tsotsi is a career criminal and not a particularly good one but what he lacks in planning and intelligence he makes up for in horrific violence. Along with his small gang of three he commits crimes that have more to do with providing an outlet for the volcanic rage in his soul than anything else. They certainly dont do anything with the money they steal other than get high, get drunk, pass out and wake up the next day to repeat the cycle. Tsotsi is an enigma to his friends. Tsotsi isnt even his real name. It means thug. He certainly lives up to the title.

One day a robbery goes really wrong and a man is killed. Later on his friend Boston (Mothusi Magano) demands to know how he feels about what they did and demands to know where Tsotis soul is, where his decency is. Boston touches a nerve and Tsotsi brutally beats him into unconsciousness and then walks away with hardly a backwards look. During his lonely walk he finds himself in a gated community and on a sudden impulse, steals a car from a woman who cannot get her garage gate to open and is talking to her husband on the intercom. The woman fights back, Tsotsi shoots her, then steals her Mercedes and hes miles away before he realizes why the woman fought back so savagely: theres a baby boy in the back seat.

It never occurs to Tsotsi to leave the baby in a hospital or an orphanage. Hes so used to taking and keeping what he wants that he keeps the baby. Now, if youve been paying attention youll realize that Tsotsi is the last person in the world who should have a baby and indeed, even though he tries his best to care for child (one amusing scene has him making a makeshift diaper out of newspaper) it isnt long before he realizes that hes out of his depth. In desperation he forces a young mother (Terry Pheto) to breastfeed the baby at gunpoint. The young mother seems to see something in the desperation that this savage young man has towards caring for the child and offers to continue to feed and clean the baby for him. Naturally Tsotsi is suspicious but theres something about the simple and dignified way this young woman lives her life that reminds him dimly of his own mother and he agrees.

Meanwhile the babys mother has survived the shooting and has given the police a description of Tsotsi and a pair of determined detectives are on the case. Drawings of Tsotsi are being circulated in Soweto and its only a matter of time before somebody decides to cash in on the reward offered. Its a dangerous situation that seems to have only one way it can end since Tsotsi is determined to keep the baby at any and all costs.

I really enjoyed the way TSOTSI told its story. The cinematography is quite beautiful and its a pleasure to see theres a director who knows how to leave a camera still for longer for thirty seconds. Ive gotten so weary of the manic camerawork that seems to be the norm for most movies nowadays that it was pleasure to watch a movie that actually took time to linger on faces and people and objects. Scenes are allowed to play themselves out without frantic, jumpy editing. The acting is just marvelous. These are faces weve never seen before and so we dont have the familiar Hollywood faces getting in the way of the story being told and its a great story. There are scenes of great pain and anguish, such as a scene where Tsotsi encounters a tribe of children living in huge concrete construction pipes and another where Tsotsi encounters a cripple man and honestly wants to know what motivates the man to go on living. One scene involving the baby and some ants will definitely have you cringing and may make you turn away from the screen. But theres also scenes of humor, such as the running joke where one of Tsotsis friends continually loses at shooting craps because he cant count and Tsotsi carrying around the baby everywhere in a shopping bag that must be made out of titanium.

So should you see TSOTSI? You certainly should. Its worth your time and money to rent the DVD. Its a welcome change from your usual Hollywood diet and if for nothing else, its a fascinating look into another world and another culture many of us don't even know exists. Its got terrific performances and a great story told with exceptional humanity and spirit.

94 minutes

Rated R for language and strong violent content.

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Given that Hood is also responsible for the atrocity that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, how do you rate the direction Mr Ferguson?

I actually was surprised at how much I enjoyed X:MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. I thought it was a superior superhero movie and worked as well as a action/adventure movie.

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