On iPlayer: Tsotsi

Tsotsi is a 2005 adaptation of the novel of the same name, written and directed by South African Gavin Hood. When Tsotsi (Afrikaans for “thug”) steals a car, he doesn’t realise there is a baby in the back. As he tries to care for the infant, the ruthless criminal begins to learn the value of human life, causing him to reflect on his own troubled past.

With its young characters and often upbeat soundtrack, Tsotsi is akin to 2002’s City of God, but where this film was a sprawling epic with a plethora of characters, Tsotsi is a much more personal tale, focusing on the titular character and a few of his friends.

The character is superbly written with a vulnerability that’s in contrast with his behaviour, expertly portrayed by Presley Chweneyagae, in his first feature film, who manages to appear both youthful and experienced beyond his years. He’s a character that shows the world the same behaviour he has received, and even once he decides to provide for someone, all he knows how to do is threaten and steal.

In spite of this, Tsotsi is a film with as much hope in it as despair, with characters who are prepared to share what little they have and redeem themselves and their honour. It must be very hard to write characters in such an alien setting who are relatable to a Western audience, but Hood manages it brilliantly.

A masterful creation, Tsotsi is short and sweet, simple on the surface, but also complex and thought-provoking. It’s an example of cinema at its best.

Tsotsi is available on iPlayer until August 18th.

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