Tsotsi (2005) (R)
If a man seeks retribution, let him repay.
That sounds like a proverb doesn't it, or some sort of pithy saying; but no, I just made that up. Quite pleased with it myself. I'm not sure it makes any sense and probably has nothing to do with "Tsotsi", but it seemed like the right thing to say in the wake of my emotions. I like to write as soon as the last frame has darkened on the screen, when my tears are still drying in my eyes and my hands don't quite know how to type what I am processing.
This is what "Tsotsi" does to me, and it is so beautifully tragic in the way it does this. This isn't to say that the movie is sad, because it's not, rather it's entirely hopeful and that delicate thought blooms into something so powerful that it takes over the rest of the story.
In Johannesburg in South Africa there's a small gang made of four boys who steal and perform crimes in the night for their own cheap thrills. They don't seem to be at a lack for money or under the thumb of a larger figure, instead, they just rob for the hell of it. They are lead by Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) who remains tight-lipped with his emotions. He's short, stocky, and built with a calculated fury. His eyes speak for him most of the time. The first scene we see him and his gang in action results in the death of a man on a subway. A knife to the chest, a twist of the iron, and the man will never breathe again.
They call it a mistake, a loose canon in a different setting.
Returning home and drinking their problems into a stupor, one of the boys decides that he should broach the idea of decency with Tsotsi. He oversteps his bounds and gets his head bloodied as a result.
Venting anger, Tsotsi runs out of the slums into the rich neighborhoods in the pouring ran. A lady in a nice car stops and runs in the rain because her key isn't opening the main gate.
Seizing the opportunity, Tsotsi steals the car and shoots the woman, making a dodgy getaway.
It's only after he's gone a few miles does he realize that there's a baby in the car with him.
"Tsotsi" doesn't try to make a hero of its titular character, but there is nothing else that we could really call him. He embodies a Christ figure of sorts, teaching lessons to himself more than anyone else. With a baby in tow, a burden that he doesn't really want, the language becomes universal.
How can a hardened criminal be moved by a baby's cry?
When the baby crying sounds like its chest is rattling with grief, who cannot be moved?
"Tsotsi" excels because of Chweneyagae, who stuns as the lead, filled with complexity and emotions not so simply spelled out for the viewer to understand. Emotionally the film is harder to gauge than most surrealist works are to understand and most of that is due to Chweneyagae's performance. He is stifled, moved, emotional, walking the tight-rope between surrogate father and criminal. All of these combine into a mixture so overwhelming in responsibility the only logical result might be a blank face.
Gavin Hoods, the writer and director is thrilling and nuanced.
"Tsotsi" is an emotional powerhouse about men and women, children and adults, and the sacrifice of self for retribution's sake.
It is essential.
Posted by Micah Jones