Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Tsotsi" (Language - Zulu/Xhosa/Afrikaans) (2005) - Movie Review

Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” has its titular character in a state of as it is. In the end when the man comes off his darkness, he is still the same person, the change does not disturb the fragments of good parts in the devil of a person. The catharsis he goes through is not in open nor there is an evidence of the work put on subtlety. He lives there as a man confused on the strangeness of the emotion of guilt and love. He begins unwrapping his conscience and he cannot stop it. He is a struggling soul and he swims hard to come through it. He begins to believe and at the end when tragedy is an inch closer, the film ends as it supposed to.

The young actor playing this merciless and unpredictable boy is Presley Chweneyagae. His face is sterile but it is a facade hiding the trueness of human lying beneath. When he walks in the centre with his small clan in the streets of the slum near Johannesburg, his cockiness is not convincing. The actor plays it so because the mismatch in his appearance and behaviour is a wannabe. Here their job is to steal and Tsotsi with his gang rounds up a helpless old man in a busy train. They surround him when another gang member Butcher (Zenzo Nggobe) punctures the chest of the old man for no reason at all. Tsotsi is disturbed but do not show it out. But another member Boston (Mothusi Magano) in the gang is disgusted and horrified. He constantly reflects the ugliness of the act they allowed on to the face of him in a local bar which only makes Tsotsi to pummel his friend and run away.

Gavin Hood deliberately seem to begin in a second act. Before even we get to know the characters in detail we are in the conflict of the story. Tsotsi is not his real name and has only put a shade on himself. The word means “thug”. In his desperation for satiating his remorse, he goes for another mugging resulting in a helpless woman getting shot and her car stolen. Before one could think it cannot get worse, there is a cry in the back seat. A baby looking at this boy’s face who is stepping on all the wrong places. He takes everything in the car and in the flurry of impulsive blunders, he does something else. He takes the baby along with him. We are still not sure whether he is going to dispose it or drop it in the first signs of trouble. For reasons unknown to him, he begins to nurture or takes an attempt in taking care of the baby, of course in the worst way possible.

“Tsotsi” is a suave short story. Its glossiness does not feel original to the art house movie making. May be technical excellence never took a front seat in a film of substance or usually it merges than to stand out of the crowd. In this film, it seems as a distraction. The slum which is a rat hole of a place shines out in the despair. It reminded me of a director in Indian Cinema, Maniratnam. His obsession to glorify the frames with photography adding unnecessary and uncalled richness to a background which clearly is not a place to feel good about. “Tsotsi” unfortunately takes that route. Yet it does not forget its destination in this delusion.

What makes Tsotsi do the things he does? Survival instincts? But his victims are helpless individuals minding their own business. His stealing is lethal and he has never stopped his friend Butcher in going on a killing spree whenever he wanted to. Yet this time around there arises a gang member as Boston to take a mirror and put it in front of this boy who has only seen the world being tough to him. We are shown that his childhood marked with a violent father and a sick mother being the victim to HIV disease. He envies the baby but he also sees the innocence he believes to have lost.

Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” is a good film reasonably staying within its realm of keeping it simple. Its simplicity is not a hindrance to the character of the film. Its central character remains unpredictable till the end but who is not. His idea of seeing the things shifts out. He begins to care. The film not settling for cheap emotions keeps it real. We are touched when he witnesses another victim to his terrorizing methods, this time for good reasons, to force a young mother (Terry Pheto) feeding the baby and we begin to slowly sympathize for this wrongly turned boy when he stands knowing his destroyed future. He is changed man though.

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