Saturday, March 25, 2006


This movie was nothing like the movie I was expecting, but then I didn't really know much about it, except that it had been compared to City of Gods and had won the Oscar for International Film. I thought it was going to be about some young thug in a tough part of some South African city, doing what he needed to survive. Certainly, the opening scenes confirmed those expectations: he and his gang are on a train, they circle a man in a suit who evidently has some money and Tsotsi uses a long screwdriver which has been sharpened to a point to kill the man. It didn't like he had much money, just his paypacket, but life is cheap. Then there was a big fight in which Tsotsi nearly killed Boston, one of his guys, because Boston wants to know if Tsotsi knows what it means to be decent. Tsotsi takes off by himself and does a carjacking. This is all in the first ten minutes or so of the movie.

But it turns out that the car he's taken has a passenger - the infant shown to the left. As Tsotsi is cleaning out the car, we're left on edge: what is he going to do with this baby, is he going to be so monstrous as to kill it? It is certainly possible, given what we know of him. But no: instead, he takes care of the baby, even gives it his own name. Pretty much everything he does from the time he takes the baby back to his shipping container house is to protect the baby. Sure, some of what he does is violent - he even kills one of his own men, but there is a good purpose to what he's doing. He also intimidates one of the local village women, Miriam, holds a gun to her head, so she'll feed the baby because Tsotsi is woefully out of his depth when it comes to caring for a child. He feeds it condensed milk, which he fails to clean off its face, and is surprised when he comes home hours later to find the baby covered in huge ants.

But the film is about him coming right, about him working stuff out. I went with quite a big group of people, and in our discussions afterwards, we decided that the movie managed to be sentimental, without going too far. Our biggest disagreement was over a scene in which he pursues this handicapped fellow into some sort of empty car parking building. Some thought he was going to kill the fellow but changed his mind. I thought he had two reasons - one a bit silly: he had this kid with no idea how to care for it, and here's this fellow with a nice wheeled contraption which might function as a kind of pram. More seriously, I think he was genuinely curious, he really did want to know what made this fellow just stick at life, awful as it looked. Tsotsi tells the fellow about a dog with a broken back which still had the will to live - it turns out that it was Tsotsi's own dog, stomped on by his brute of a father. That was it, in terms of Tsotsi having any kind of family - he ran away and lived in the upper left one of a pile of culverts.

When we catch up with him, Tsotsi is looking, not so much for a way forward, but a reason for going forward. Eventually he goes far enough down that path to work out that the baby has to be returned to its mother - with a bit of nudging from the woman he co-opted to feed him. Of course, the police are all over the show as he's trying to give the kid back, and there was so much potential for things to go wrong, with hotheaded arned cops, and a very nervous Tsotsi (he's still only 16).

In terms of cinematography, the most obvious thing is the general lack of colour - when they're out of the city, everything is dusty and insde there's a strong sepia toning. The only place with any sort of colour is Miriam's house - she wears colourful clothing and makes hanging ornaments out of bits of coloured glass (at least she does when she's happy - the rusty one was when she was not happy, possibly when her husband died in a random mugging).


Blogger RC said...

I really don't think this movie is like city of God at all...

i don't know a single movie like City of God...

this movie is wonderful and enjoyable but not City of God...

--RC of

7:08 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

You're right: those who try to make the City of God connection will send people down the wrong path, like they did me. When we came out, we thought it was more like the sequel to NZ's Once Were Warriors (What Became of the Broken Hearted?). Not that it has to be like any other movie, anyway.

1:42 AM  

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