“Tsotsi” is the word for thug in the South African dialect Tsotsi-Ttaal and is also the name of the leading character in writer/director Gavin Hood’s riveting film of the same name.
The 2005 Oscar winner for best foreign language motion picture, “Tsotsi” explores a week in the life of a criminal living in a shantytown just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. The film comments on the social divisions of the shantytown and South Africa in general by showing the desperate acts of its inhabitants and its poor living conditions.
Tsotsi is the young, hardened leader of a gang who is constantly out to prove himself and his toughness. He is callous and kills people seemingly as part of his daily routine.
His toughness is quickly called into question after a carjacking goes awry and he is left to care for a baby he discovers in the back seat. The position of caretaker quickly sends Tsotsi down a path of redemption and change that tends to evoke audience sympathy for the young man.
The film is based on the 1980 novel by Athol Fugard, which explores the problem of apartheid in racially separated South Africa.
However, “Tsotsi” is not a story of racial disparity, but rather one of socioeconomic inequality, because all of the characters are black.
Hood, a white Afrikaaner, demonstrates the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor by showing both the wretched conditions of the shantytown as well as the lavishness of a gated community.
The film is distinctly South African as a result of many interesting decisions made by Hood. The most noticeable is the musical score, which makes use of Kwaito, a musical genre featuring hip hop with a slower tempo and African samples.
The soundtrack, featuring artists like Zola, a poet/actor/musician from Soweto, brings a great deal of energy and rhythm to the film.
For example, the music speeds up during scenes that involve activities such as driving and slows down during those involving the baby.
This film is also unique because the director refused to cast any big-name actors, instead choosing amateurs from the local area. These traits produce a film that eloquently and naturally explores the life of a criminal in a time of great socioeconomic disparity.
“Tsotsi” is the kick-off film for Spring 2007’s Cultural Film and Lecture Series, “Forgiveness.” It will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for everyone else.
The Monday evening screening only will feature guest lecturer Mark Doorley, chair of the ethics program. He will provide an introduction prior to the screening and lead a discussion afterward.
For more information, call the communication department at X9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web page: www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu.