by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & Tsotsi & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n Tsotsitaal, Johannesburg's urban patois, "tsotsi" means "little gangster" or "thug." In this Oscar-winning South African film, the title character -- barely out of his teens -- is bent on living up to the name. In the first 15 minutes, with silent efficiency, he and his gang kill a hapless man in a subway car, propping up his corpse among them to keep the other passengers from noticing. One of the gang members, still burdened with a conscience, picks a fight with Tsotsi over the subway murder. After beating him viciously, Tsotsi tears away from the township on foot and finds himself in the suburbs. Chancing upon a wealthy African woman trying to enter her gated driveway, Tsotsi careens into violence again, jumping into the driver's seat and shooting the woman.
Obviously, this is one shriveled, pitiless soul; sympathizing with him is unthinkable. But then Tsotsi gets a surprise: He has driven away with the woman's infant son. Acting on impulse, he puts the baby in a large shopping bag, abandoning the car at the edge of the wasteland that borders the township. Maybe he's going to ransom the baby; maybe he doesn't have any idea what he'll do. But director Gavin Hood packs a lot into the film's 94 minutes. By the end, we have traveled a long road with Tsotsi, who teeters between memories of the brutal childhood that forged him into a thug and the possibility of redemption.
In his thoughtful audio commentary, Hood, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Athol Fugard, says that he chose not to glamorize or linger over the violence. "Suddenness is the shock value," says Hood. "It's the aftermath of violence that affects us." Revealing that both his own parents have been held up at gunpoint, he notes that the huge chasm between wealthy and impoverished South Africans is what makes the rich subject to sporadic violence, even within their gated houses.
Film buffs will also like the other DVD extras, including alternate endings, deleted scenes, Hood's short film The Storekeeper, The Making of Tsotsi featurette and a music video by Zola, whose songs make up the score for much of the film.