In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t celebrate its titular character, or judge him either. It impartially tells his story and let’s it speak for itself.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“What kind of bastard would break a dog’s back?”
According to movies, South Africa is a hell hole, a place of misery with no real happiness to be found. Well, at least according to the movies I’ve seen about South Africa, that seems to be the case. Are there any upbeat, fun, positive movies set there? My (admittedly very limited) experience with stories set in South Africa might be entirely made up of the horrible racism of The Power of One, the horrible racism and inhospitable slums of District 9, and Chappie, the movie set in a sci fi dystopia, that looks like they just used present day South Africa as is, no set decorations or faux desolation required. Well, I can add another title to the list of movies that make me never want to go there, Tsotsi.
Leading a gang of thuggish teens, Tsotsi (Presley Cheweneyagae) coordinates a mugging on a train that leads to the death of their victim. When Boston (Mothusi Magano), one of his underlings, questions their increasingly violent actions, Tsotsi beats him severely before disappearing into the night. Relieving even more aggression and trying to deny the fact that he knows Boston is right, Tsotsi shoots a woman and steals her car, only to find her infant son in the backseat.
Deciding to keep and care for the baby for reasons that aren’t even clear to Tsotsi, he struggles to keep the child hidden. Now responsible for the life of someone so helpless, it’s clear that Tsotsi begins to struggle with the violent character he has presented himself as to survive in the slums where he has grown up. When things get to too much, he holds a young, local mother (Terry Pheto as Miriam) at gunpoint, making her help with the basics of child rearing.
Tsotsi is a downer. It’s built around a totally unlikable character who shows no signs of remorse or redemption until very, very late. The slum he lives in makes for one of the most truly depressing settings you’ll ever see in a movie. And there’s nothing like putting a baby in danger to make a movie stomach churningly tense. And all of that is what makes Tsotsi such an amazing movie.
It never sugar coats this terrible place, or tries to force empathy for the characters. Even flashbacks to Tsotsi’s horrific childhood don’t feel like they’re there to justify his despicable actions as a teenager. They feel like they’re simply there to flesh out the story and character. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t celebrate its titular character, or judge him either. It impartially tells his story and let’s it speak for itself.