Movie Reviews
Tsotsi - An Orphan in Africa
By Christine Pointeau
March 1, 2007 - 23:27

Writer(s): Athol Fugard (novel), Gavin Hood (screenplay)
Starring: Presley Chweneyagae, Kenneth Nkoski, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Produced by: Peter Fudakowski
Running Time: 94 mnutes
Release Date: February 24 2005
Rating: R (Restricted)
Distributors: Miramax (US)
Genre: Drama, Foreign


Adapted from novel by award winning South African writer Athol Fugard

Language: South African w/ English subtitles

The movie Tsotsi is ultimately an emotionally charged, vibrant story of hope and redemption of the human spirit. The title, meaning “gangster” in the local slang, is also the namesake of our main character, a young delinquent in that dangerous stage of no longer a child and not quite a man yet.

A runaway orphan of a mother dying of AIDS and an abusive father, Tsotsi, played by Presley Chweneyagae, has a beautifully handsome face with intense eyes. Those eyes carry a harshness brought on by the realities of life as they witness it. He is totally believable as we watch his struggle from violent thug and thief back to human being.

Events take place in the slums of Soweto, a black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and in the suburbs of the metropolis itself. Tsotsi and his gang run “tricks” in the subway to survive, ranging from robbing to senseless murder. All this comes crashing down one evening as Tsotsi shots a woman while robbing her car.

Out of town he realizes too late that there is an infant in the back seat, so much so that the surprise causes him to crash the car. He proceeds to pack a bag of anything of value he can carry out. About to leave he hesitates. For reasons he probably himself does not understand, he gently places the infant in the bag and takes him home.

Therein begins his salvation, in the face of innocence and vulnerability so unlike himself. Through his fumbling touching attempts to care for the infant, Tsotsi gives rise to his humanity, long ago locked away. There is a particularly poignant scene as he follows a cripple out of the subway and into the bowels of dirty city streets. We see a boy in quiet desperation, struggling to understand and find meaning to the apparently pointless human condition that makes up his world, and maybe even more so, a reason for his own existence.

Other “characters” worthy of the term are the language and color palette.

What is spoken here is a medley of the countless languages and dialects that coexist and intermingle in South Africa. It is interesting to catch the occasional English and French words, though I was glad for the subtitles. It has an amazing song to it and reflects one raw aspect of the culture’s personality. Add to that the voice of the actor, inflections, hesitations, breath, timber, and a depth into the story is given that would just not quite be the same if dubbed in English.

The other character is the color palette. The dusty streets of Soweto are a vibrant range of yellows, oranges, reds, browns and blues that make up the African landscape. Contrasting to that we are presented with the artificial lights of the overcrowded subway, the dirty and oppressive poor downtown neighborhoods, and the clean looking more affluent suburbia living.

This movie has stayed with me for weeks now. The images and feelings conveyed are not easily forgotten nor dismissed. Well worth the viewing, it is a beautiful essay of the human condition, what we do to survive and at what cost to our own soul. There is always hope, however, and with redemption and rebirth comes the self awareness needed to seek to DO and BE better. And that, in itself, is beauty.

Here is a good interview of Presley Chweneyagae

2005 St Louis Gateway Film Critics Association – Best Foreign Language Film

2005 Academy – Best Foreign Film

Rating: A+/10

Related Articles:
Tsotsi - An Orphan in Africa