A remarkable upgrade from the standard sword and shield.

Golden Mug



Best Picture

Theatrical Release Date: 12/23/2005 (South Africa), 02/24/2006 (USA)
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe

And the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film goes to … “Tsotsi”!

Many times, those around me have heard me bitch and moan about the Oscars getting it wrong. Well, this is not one of those times.

“Tsotsi” is the story of a thug (the loose translation of ‘Tsotsi’) who has grown up on the streets, stealing and mugging to eke out an existence and trying to create a tough reputation.

He doesn’t care that he steals and beats people. They are only means to his own end. Tsotsi’s upbringing was anything but ideal and it has created a cold, ruthless predator in the slums of Johannesburg, South Africa.

All of that changes when he shoots a woman and drives off with her car. Normally that would have been just fine for him, until the baby in the backseat starts crying.

Tsotsi is then forced to make the difficult decision of what to do and it is the journey that he undertakes that will captivate your attention and pluck at your heartstrings.

I know that sounds a bit sappy and maybe I’m being a bit too gooey. The film is not really a touchy-feely get in touch with your inner child kind of thing. Tsotsi and his gang are capable of brutal and senseless acts of violence. Still, it is the extremely rough and dour environment that makes Tsotsi’s story so much more compelling.

When was the last time you saw a movie with the cojones to have its protagonist order a woman at gunpoint to nurse a hungry baby? And no, that deleted scene from “Look Who’s Talking Too” doesn’t count. Besides, that’s all in your head, sicko.

The world of “Tsotsi” comes from a novel by Athol Fugard. Perhaps South Africa’s greatest writer, he is no stranger to provocative and powerful subject matter. Director Gavin Hood adapted the book for the film and there is a large amount of credit due to both men for creating characters with depth and dignity, even in the face of so much turmoil and indecency.

Playing Tsotsi himself is Presley Chweneyagae. His work, along with that of Terry Pheto as the woman who helps him care for the baby, is superb.

I think way more often than not, the tendency in films like this would be for Chweneyagae and Pheto to over-sentimentalize their roles. The typical love story would blossom and somehow we would all get a happy ending that put a smile on our faces as we left the theater.

With “Tsotsi”, it isn’t about making the world, or even the characters, better. It’s about morality and doing the right thing. The film makes a powerful statement about poverty and crime and the people wrapped up inside of those worlds … all without preaching or being over handed.

If you like foreign cinema, this is a can’t miss film. I’m agreeing with the Academy and awarding “Tsotsi” a 5 out of 5. As compelling and visceral as the main story is, what makes this film even more impressive is its ability to be about the human condition as a whole and to look at it without over-sentimentality or condescension.

If this is playing near you now, go see it! If not, make a note or add it to your online queue and see “Tsotsi”.