by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Presley Chweneyagae as TSOTSI
Terry Pheto as MIRIAM
Kenneth Nkosi as AAP
Mothusi Magano as BOSTON
Zenzo Ngqobe as BUTCHER
Zola as FELA
Directed by: Gavin Hood
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Just because a film has won the Oscar doesn’t mean it’s any good. And just because it won the Oscar doesn’t mean people have seen it – or even heard about it.
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While “Tsotsi” is a good movie (and even a great movie), it’s one that few are going to see, and that’s a shame. The thing that will keep people from seeing “Tsotsi” is the fact that it has subtitles. In general, mainstream audiences don’t want to read subtitles on screen. They’d rather have the dubbing.
However, some films are far better with in the original language. “Tsotsi” is one of those films. The original language of Tsotsi-Taal, which is the street language of South Africa, adds to the film’s atmosphere. Otherwise, with dubbing, it would become just another thug movie.
The film centers around the main character of Tsotsi, which means “thug” in his language. He has no real name that we learn, as he’s been a street thug most of his life. He runs with a gang that strikes with petty crimes, although they sometimes result in not-so-petty results, like the death of their pick-pocket victims.
Tsotsi is a sleaze bag, no doubt about it. Sure, we’re shown the path he took to get there, including an abusive father and his need to run away from home. Of course, that’s not an excuse, and the film doesn’t really ask us to forgive him of his sleaziness.
Instead, the film takes along as events drag him into the realm of decency when he accidentally kidnaps a child in a botched car robbery. Tsotsi continues throughout the film to act self-centered, ready to explode with violence. However, he can’t help but be touched by a sudden and inexplicable parenting instinct.
What’s so powerful about this film is that we do see the change in Tsotsi. Maybe we don’t see the complete change, and maybe this change just won’t take. But we see the start of it. And while his deeds in his past are largely unforgivable, we see how a spiraling series of events can start the wheels of change.
The DVD comes with several alternative endings, each of which was a cliche in its own right. I’m glad the director chose the one he did for the feature film. Still, it’s nice to see where his thought process was going. There are also several deleted scenes, each with director commentary.
There’s a “Making of Tsotsi” featurette on the disc, along with director Gavin Hood’s short film “The Storekeeper” in the special features. Hood also lends his voice to a commentary track, providing solid insight into the film and the journey it took from the original book to the big screen.
This film won the Oscar for best foreign language film, and it is well deserved. It is a shame that it won’t get as much play as it deserves due to the dubbing issue. While I believe an English dub to the DVD would soften the film a bit, it could have made it a little more accessible to the mainstream.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Original language track (Tsotsi-Taal). English and Spanish subtitles.