I remember Tsotsi being shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival (EIFF) last year and hearing great things, but I never got time to see it and that became a regret of mine as soon as it won the audience award at the Festival. The recent news of the Oscar win just ground lemon juice and salt into that wound and I resigned myself to waiting to see it on release day, then the Cameo came to my rescue and held a Press Screening. It was definitely worth the wait.
The first thing I noticed about the movie is the superb cinematography and framing of just about every single shot. I thought that this was going to be something that faded once the opening scenes are past, as so often films do these days, but the quality just never let up right to the very end of the film.
It does help that the actors and backdrops in the movie are just so photogenic, but it does seem as though both the Director Gavin Hood and Cinematographer Lance Gewer are talents that should not be squandered. The camera moves in a natural and fluid motion, keeping you moving with the story, and it moves from widescapes of the shanty town to facial close-ups just dripping with strength and emotion. Here the camera really is a solid entity in the film, and it adds buckets to the story telling.
The second thing I noticed, straight into the movie was the soundtrack. Mixing South African music with Hip-Hop and seemingly gangster rap, it almost blasts you out of your seat. Again it seems as though there has been a big focus on getting all the elements of the film as authentic and of benefit to the story telling as possible, and the soundtrack adds as much to the story as the cinematography does.
Then something else surprising dawns on you, the excellent acting is not just restricted to one or two actors but a majority of the cast. I was personally amazed at the depth of some of the performances and how they fill that
screen with such emotional tension that it reaches out to you and connects with you no matter where you're from.
I was genuinely surprised by the quality of the filmmaking and acting. In particular the performances by Presley Chweneyagae (Tsotsi) and his small group of gangster friends played by Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe and Kenneth Nkosi. They were emotionally strong, and extremely real, and at times incredibly tense. Altogether the cast provided for utterly compelling viewing as much as Crash had with their ensemble cast.
Another aspect of the film that provides a great deal of strength is the character development of Tsotsi himself. This is a slow and visible process, very much unlike many Hollywood films with characters who are one thing and must become another. In Hollywood you could expect the character to have one or two events which hit them and change them, pretty unsubtle really. You may even feel jolted out of the film for a few moments as the event happens. Here though, the development is slow and very real.
There are a number of events you could easily identify as moments that affect the main character, but some of these are drawn out throughout the movie rather than being a single moment of realisation with the character visibly changed afterwards. Moments dawn on him and his actions change later as a result, and the emotion and confusion through these can almost be felt onscreen.
Early on in the movie there is a moment where I thought it was going to go the other way and fall back on Hollywood standards. When Tsotsi dances in front of the camera there is a feeling that it's about to go the opposite direction to the way it's been built up to, but thankfully this is a brief moment and the film returns to the strong character based story.
I have to recommend this film, it's an excellent example of a film as an entire package - plot, soundtrack, cinematography and acting - and it delivers a strong and charged story, as well as filled with great performances which have been written and acted from reality.