Search This Blog

Friday, 29 April 2011

Unsung Masterpieces: Entry 2

Okay, perhaps not quite a masterpiece, but certainly a film I cannot recommend enough, is "Tsotsi", the first feature from Gavin Hood.  I had not seen it before yesterday, to my shame, but seriously, if you have not seen it, do! 

Having seen Hood's "Rendition", which I very much enjoyed, I was not surprised to find his debut "Tsotsi" (African slang for a thug or gang member) is fully deserving of the international acclaim it has been given. An up-to-date rendering of a book written in the 1970's, it tells the story of a young African man, David, who survives rather than lives, understanding only violence and crime; a man who has no family, and clutches to bitterness as a way of getting on in a place riddled with disease and poverty. A crime he commits against a rich family brings with it an unexpected dilemma, and an unexpected obligation; the film is the exploration of the moral struggle he encounters and the discovery of his humanity. Ultimately it proposes that no matter how awful a person, no matter what our preconceptions, nothing is black and white, there is always an explanation (which is very different to an excuse) for behaviour, everybody is a human being, and as such, redemption should always be possible.

Hood has a real eye for photography, as he went on to prove again with "Rendition"; with "Tsotsi" he doesn't just display understanding of how to shoot something, but also the significance of a shot, of a composition, of a colour scheme; visuals regularly support similes and metaphors of the script and genuinely draw your eye, grab your attention, and make you understand things very clearly. He captures the landscape perfectly; there is both a beauty and a disgrace about this contemporary, disease-ridden Johannesburg; rich and poor are wonderfully illustrated, and there comes a point in the film where failure to understand the position and mentality of David and his gang is near impossible. Hood takes time to lay back-story gradually, building David's character through the film, so that by the final act we are completely with him. An intelligently used soundtrack emphasises this all the more.

The heart of the film is actually the central performance by Presley Chweneyagae, who is completely engaged, totally in the skin of David, and with every expression and slight gesture, portrays perfectly his emotional and mental state. By the end of the film you can see memory, longing and confusion in his eyes and movements, and etched clearly into his face by the tears he cries. The whole final act is masterful, so emotional, beautifully played, and with a very final shot that is haunting and iconic; a similar feeling is experienced to that which is felt at the end of "Full Metal Jacket", although perhaps a little more oddly positive.

"Tsotsi" does not have the surprise element Hood's next film would have, and in a way you can say it is quite a predictable story, but it is otherwise so sincere, so heartfelt, and so moving, that this complaint holds little sway. Any film that can setup a character one should not like and move the audience to the point of honestly caring about them, and understanding them better, is doing something right. 

I also have to reiterate that "Rendition", the film that followed soon after, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and which did not get much attention, is also well worth your time, especially if a political story that leaves you something to think about sounds up your alley.

No comments:

Post a Comment