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Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
Released by: Miramax Films

In Short: An intensely emotional tale of brutality and redemption set against the contrasting worlds of rich and poor in Johannesburg, South Africa.

An Accidental Kidnapping
The Gangster and the Baby
By Jenny Peters

Tsotsi (pronounced "sot-see") is a remorseless 19-year-old gang leader living in a poverty-ridden black township on the edge of the massive South African metropolis, Johannesburg. Everything about him, even his name—translated as "Thug"—is brutal and uncaring, as he leads his four-man gang in crimes that range from petty to downright murderous.

Then, one fateful night, Tsotsi (played by Presley Chweneyagae, who is impressive in his first film role) gets much more than he bargained for when he goes by himself into the posh upper-class section of town to commit a car jacking. In the stolen car is the driver's baby son, a gurgling, smiling reflection of Tsotsi himself as an infant. Finding – and keeping – the baby sets off a deluge of emotions and memories for the young thug, beginning a radical shift in his life trajectory.

"Tsotsi" is the kind of film that reminds viewers that going to the movies can sometimes be a sublime experience. It has fascinating visual landscapes that are radically different from what we normally see on film; a vibrant soundtrack of South African tunes; and an excellent cast of performers. Most importantly, the insightful and densely layered examination of what makes a boy a criminal, and how an unexpected emotional connection can redeem him, testifies that films can illuminate the human experience.

It seems that the world agrees, for "Tsotsi" is nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, after winning numerous accolades and acclaim at film festivals (AFI, Toronto, etc.) worldwide. But it wouldn't matter if writer-director Gavin Hood's adaptation of Athol Fugard's novel of the same name hadn't won a thing; it is still a deeply moving work, and one that is not to be missed by anyone who loves movies. One note: the film is subtitled, since the cast speaks the Tsotsitaal patois.

(Published: 02/23/06)

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