Film - Tsotsi

After the opening scenes I didn’t expect to like Tsotsi, the South African movie which won the Best Foreign Language Movie Oscar in the 2005 Academy Awards. A Soweto gang decide to go into Johannesburg: they spot a target, silently murder him on a tube train, and take his wallet. One gang member questions leader Tsotsi’s modus operandi, and is savagely beaten up. Tsotsi (Zulu for ‘thug’) storms off to a rich part of town, where he hijacks a car, shoots its female owner and leaves her for dead. So far, so gratuitously violent. Or so it seems.

In the car Tsotsi finds a baby. Suddenly he is thrust into a world he doesn’t understand. He can’t bring himself to kill the baby, so he tries to look after it. He uses newspapers for nappies, and feeds it condensed milk. He carries it around in a shopping bag. Suddenly he has to give instead of take. We learn of his own terrible childhood; we realise why he turned bad. Can you imagine how awful a Western-made movie would have been with, say, John Travolta playing a gangster who finds redemption after accidentally stealing a baby? Director Gavin Hood doesn’t fall into the obvious traps: he doesn’t overplay the cuteness of the baby; Tsotsi’s redemption is gradual, and incomplete. There are no baddies and goodies; the underlying message of the film is that understanding the past is the key to living in the present. What’s more, Presley Chweneyagae is brilliant in the title role: he does most of his acting with his eyes. DL

Tsutsi: an unexpected passenger leads to a gangster’s
partial redemption
All Saints Centre, Friars Walk, Lewes
When? 4.50pm (also 4.50pm Sunday)
How Much? £4.50
Lewes Cinema
(w) Website