Sunday, March 19, 2006

Tsotsi: A Must See!

I walked into an empty theatre. I try to do this as often as I can because it is in these moments of seclusion and silence that my most genuine critiques are formulated. The uncomfortable red foam cushioned seats looked as though they had had their fair share of popcorn and soda spills. I would venture to say that they hadn't been cleaned in months.

The previews began with promise but ultimately ended with me wondering how there could possibly be nothing of interest to watch in the month of April. For the next seven minutes I waited in anticipation. The silence of the theatre was broken only by my stale ass nachos. I paid $4.50 for them though and I wasn’t about to be wasteful. In a manifestation of utter determination, I willed myself to consume each rocklike tortilla chip.

African Hip-Hop and shanties...
That’s how the movie started. As I listened and watched, it struck me that the music was simultaneously alien and familiar. A unique language captivated me as this African voice flawlessly spit alien words over a familiar Hip-Hop snare and bass combination. I thought to myself: Wow, even in South Africa does Hip-Hop function as the language of the oppressed.

Then a shot of Tsotsi, the main character, walking through the shanties of South Africa with a gait that was undeniably thorough and impeccably gangsta. His facial features were childlike and almost feminine and yet there was this ferocity in his eyes that was at all times present. His stare was some sort of divine deterrent that the Supreme Being used to caution the comman man against provoking the young man's wrath. That fierceness is channeled, however, when Tsotsi finds more than he bargains for in a car he hijacks. No more than a year old, a child he finds in a stolen car becomes the catalyst that provides the audience (in all actuality it was just me) with its first glimpse of the compassion that Tsotsi possesses.
And so it is revealed that Tsotsi, which roughly translates to “thug,” is the story of a ruffian who must revisit his dark past in order to reconcile the estranged and compassionate young man that lies within. Much like the Hip-Hop music mentioned earlier, the setting and the issues the movie presents are eerily familiar. The shanties resemble the projects; and much like the projects, the people who live in them somehow manage to conjure up a smile even in the most deplorable of conditions. The dichotomy that exists between the shanties and post-apartheid Johannesburg are just as sad as those that exist between the lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview community of Louisiana.

The movie subtly explores these issues of class and poverty. All the while dudes are getting yayed with ice picks and shot point blank. Though somewhat violent at times, the movie’s message is not lost to those who understand the producer’s intent to portray the shanties of South Africa as truthfully as possible.

I have only great things to say about the movie and it is certainly deserving of all my praise. Tsotsi won an Academy Award earlier this month for Best Foreign Language Film. The victory is even more extraordinary when you consider that it was the first lead role for Presley Chweneyagae, who plays Tsotsi. The brother commanded the screen. By understanding and capturing the internal transformations the main character underwent, he made the character come to life in a most beautiful way.

If you have yet to see this movie (click here for a preview), definitely set some time aside to do so. Smartness gives it two emphatic "Lean wit it, Rock wit it" snaps.

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