Thursday, December 21, 2006

TSOTSI: See This Movie

If your idea of a foreign film is one of those sexy, French fascinations of blurring the line between the Oedipus complex and incest, then you may be surprised to know that there have been many compelling stories on film being made in Africa, about Africa and Africans, set in Africa. There’s even a cute romantic comedy out of Zimbabwe called Jit, about a poor man competing with another man, of questionable means, for the affections of a beautiful young, South African lady. But, then there’s Child of the South, starring a youthful Alex Descas, (who portrayed Mobutu Sese Seko in the film Lumumba, about Patrice Lumumba, first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and also Josette Simon, who also appeared in the movie Cry Freedom with Denzel Washington. Child of the South is about a young South African journalist, who was exiled during apartheid following her fathers’ death. She travels to Mozambique in order to get back to South Africa to see her mother who has stayed behind. In Mozambique, she meets and falls in love with a young doctor (Descas), and finds herself literally and emotionally in the middle of civil unrest in Mozambique.

But, if you’ve never watched an African film; if you’ve never watched a foreign film, here’s a good place to start. Tsotsi, starring South African, Presley Chweneyagae, is a ruthless gang leader in a Soweto township, who carjacks a woman’s car, and later finds that her baby is in the back seat. “Tsotsi”, which translates to “thug”, rediscovers his humanity and compassion, compromised when his mother’s death orphans him as a little boy. The film has won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2006.

The screenplay is an adaptation of, The Blood Knot, a 1960’s novel by South African playwright Athol Fugard, who also wrote Boesman and Lena, which was developed into the movie starring Angela Bassett and Danny Glover. The character of Tsotsi is beautifully reminiscent of Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, in the novel Native Son, in that it is the tragic condition of his life which delivers him unto the recognition of his own humanity. The devastation, deprivation and desperation of having grown up, living his life in a drainpipe, in the clutches of wretched poverty, appear to render Tsotsi heartless. But, his encounter with another life, which is totally dependent on him, returns him to the benevolent and civilized creature he has always been beneath his callous exterior.

And, if you’re curious or if you are an African music connoisseur, the soundtrack is a memorable mix of Kwaito (South African Hip Hop), with tracks by Bonginkosi “Zola” Dlamini, who is a poet, actor and musician from the South African township of Zola (hence the name), who also stars in the movie.


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