Directed by Gavin Hood, starring Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe and Zola.
Winner of Best Foreign Film at the recent Oscars, South Africa's 'Tsotsi' saw off the not inconsiderable challenge from 'Joyeux Noël', 'Don't Tell', 'Paradise Now' and 'Sophie Scholl - The Final Days' to become a worthy winner. Adapted from Athol Fugard's acclaimed novel and set in the townships of Johannesburg, it's a deeply moving look at crime and redemption with a great performance from newcomer Presley Chweneyagae as the titular character.
Short-tempered, extremely violent and seemingly without scruples, Tsotsi (township slang for thug) is the leader of a gang of muggers whose hunting ground is the Johannesburg train system. We see just how much his name suits him in a gripping opening sequence where an old man is mugged then murdered and Tsotsi almost beats one of his own gang to death for pushing his psychological buttons and asking how he became so bad.
Still seething with rage, Tsotsi leaves the township bar and goes to a well-off area where the chance arises to steal a BMW from a well-off black woman who has just got out of her car to open the gates of her home. But she turns around too quickly and Tsotsi thinks nothing of shooting her before driving off. He hasn't got far, however, when he discovers that he isn't the only one in the car - the woman's infant son is in the back seat. And so begins Tsotsi's escape from the pain and hatred that have destroyed his life.
Like 'City of God' before it, writer-director Hood's film is a brilliant example of world cinema that can transcend the arthouse to connect with a much wider audience. And just like the Rio de Janeiro of 'City of God', these are the parts of South Africa you won't see on the travel shows - the grinding poverty, desperation and contempt for human life. But it's also a very colourful film that, through its supporting characters, shows self-respect and resilience and people rising above their circumstances to teach us all a valuable lesson.
From presenting us with an utterly despicable character at the start, Hood chips away at our defences as we see just how Tsotsi has fallen so far and that nurture, not nature, has fuelled his actions. By the end you're rooting for the teenager onscreen who has shed much of his armour and symbolically wears a white shirt as he tries to do the right thing.
Expertly told, perfectly paced and beautifully shot, 'Tsotsi' will find its place on plenty of year end lists. It deserves every plaudit that comes its way, and your attention.