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Tsotsi is a 2005 South African film written and directed by Gavin Hood. It is based on Athol Fugard’s novel of the same name. The lead role is played by South African artist Presley Chweneyagae. The movie is in Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, and Tsotsitaal languages. In was released internationally by Miramax Films.

Plot. The film is set in an Alexandra slum, near Johannesburg, South Africa. It begins with scenes portraying the childhood life of a notorious thug named Tsotsi. After his mother dies from a terminal disease, the young child runs away from his abusive father and lives with the other kids in a group of large concrete construction pipes. Years after, Tsotsi, whose original name was David, is now the leader of a gang that includes his friends Butcher, Aap and Boston.

Later, Tsotsi shoots a young woman named Pumla and steals her car. Only when he ransacked the car that he discovers the baby in the back seat. Hastily, he runs away with the valuables and the baby. Pumla survives the attack. A cartographic sketch of Tsotsi is immediately published in the newspapers.

Tsotsi finds it hard to take care of the baby on his own in his shack. So he looks around for a woman who can do the job and soon spots Miriam collecting water from a public tap, with a young child strapped to her back. He follows her to her home. During their first encounter, Tsotsi forces Miriam at gunpoint to feed the child. However, in the second time, Miriam offers to have full care of the child to which Tsotsi agrees.

The whole experience has gradually changed Tsotsi. At one point, he gives a large sum of money to a crippled beggar he had previously bullied. He also offers to tend his injured friend Boston. More, he also urges Boston, who they call as Teacher Boy, to take the teacher’s examination. Yet, a large sum of money is needed in order for him to take the exam, and to do so, they will have to commit another robbery.

Tsotsi, Aap and Butcher set out once again to Pumla’s house. They tie up Pumla’s husband John. Aap is assigned to watch over John, while Butcher robs the bedroom and Tsotsi collects items from the baby’s room. Incidentally, John activates the alarm. In panic, Butcher attempts to kill John with a gun but is instead shot by Tsotsi. Immediately, Tsotsi and Aap escape.

Aap is shocked with what happened and decides to leave the gang and quit as Tsotsi’s friend. Tsotsi then goes to Miriam’s place and the woman reveals that she already knows his secret. She begs him to return the child to his parents to which he painfully agrees.

Tsotsi arrives at John’s house again and he tells him over the intercom that he will leave the child outside the gate. Meanwhile, a stationed officer rushes to the scene just as Tsotsi is about to walk away. Many policemen soon appear, training their guns on Tsotsi who now holds the child more tightly. However, John urges the police to lower the gun so he can retrieve the baby himself. John begs Tsotsi and is sooner convinced to give up the child. Tsotsi emotionally returns the baby, and then told to put up his hands and turn himself in.

Commentary. Tsotsi is a film about change and redemption. In this movie, we would meet a man hardened by trials and circumstances turn into a moral person. What made him change is a mistake by fate. It was his own stupidity that triggered a series of events that distracted him from doing bad. When Tsotsi was faced with the challenge of tending the baby, he did not hesitate to accept the responsibility. Instead of disposing the child or giving him to some “place”, he looked for a nursing mother who can commit to the job. I suppose what made him decide on that is his own hurts and frustration. He grew alone and led a troubled life, and I think he does not want the helpless and innocent child suffer his fate. Tsotsi gave so much effort in taking care of the baby, even changing his diapers with a newspaper. Tsotsi transformed more when Miriam steps into the scene. Despite her poverty, Miriam raises well her only child, and then graciously offers her service of looking after the kidnapped baby. Seeing a good mother touched Tsotsi which made him decide a life-changing act of kindness. As the movie’s tagline goes, “In this world... redemption just comes once.”

Though its theme is dramatic, the movie did not dwell on so much sentimentality. It is not overwhelmingly emotional. It spares the audience from being too sympathetic with Tsotsi. We would simply understand the man and hope for change in him. The impoverished background helps us to understand more the hunger and strife of the characters. There are violence from time to time as it is a gangster movie, but the atmosphere created is more of sadness that chaos. Set aside the dialogues; the visuals are enough to evoke in us an awe-inspiring desire to change ourselves and the world we live in. In general, the storyline of the movie is simple and yet very profound.

Reception. Tsotsi received generally positive reviews. It won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film in 2006.

Rating. Tsotsi is one-of-a-kind gangster movie. It has lee violence, but more drama. I will give the film four out of five stars.

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