Tsotsi (2005)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Alternate Endings, Short Film

Johannesburg, Africa – For many, life is lived in desperation. The slums and shanty-towns are overflowing with the poor and outcasts of society. Since crime and poverty often go hand in hand, it is no surprise to see teenagers among this element etching out a living.

This is the story of "Tsotsi," one such teenager on the brink of adulthood. Like so many others living in shanty-town, his life has no meaning – and when someone lives as if their own life is worthless, the end result is them treating others as if their lives mean nothing as well – and this is what Tsotsi does.

"Tsotsi" is the 2005 Academy Award winner for "Best Foreign Film." "Tsotsi" tells the story of one such teenager who lives among the squaller after having run away from home. Through brief but emotional flashbacks, we understand what compelled the youngster to flee his home and choose a life on the streets.

One night, Tsotsi and his fellow teen gang of thugs, "Butcher," "Boston," and "Die Ap," plan what is to be a regular robbery. As it turns out, a murder is committed and Tsotsi finds himself on the run. In a desperate attempt to flee, he hijacks a car and unexpectedly finds himself the caregiver of a newborn infant. The infant causes Tsotsi to reflect on his situation, as we the viewer are asked to come along on one person's journey of redemption from a life of crime.

I found "Tsotsi" to be a powerful and compelling movie. Filmed in actual shanty-towns of South Africa, director Gavin Hood, using a cast consisting of mainly unknowns – especially the powerful debut of first time actor, Presley Chweneyagae in the title role, creates a film using minimal dialogue with images delivering to the audience it's emotional story of a homeless teenager living a life of crime.
The film challenges us as viewers to go on a journey with a violent and in many ways nasty character. It asks us whether we are willing to invest our emotions to the point of forgiveness for this person. Can we find sympathy for someone who does such things?

Miramax debuts "Tsotsi" on DVD in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen preserving the film's original theatrical presentation. The transfer is nothing short of stunning. Images are crisp, yet smooth and finely detailed. The color palette is richly saturated, with not only primary, but earth tone colors throughout. The stunningly beautiful cinematography wonderfully captures the scenery – from dusty dirt roads to the sheet metal buildings these people find themselves living in. Flesh tones are perfect. Contrast is excellent, allowing for wonderfully balanced daylight scenes, as well as deep, dark, rich black levels which also allow for excellent rendering of shadows. No evidence of edge enhancement, dust or dirt noticed. In short, this a very fine, near-reference quality presentation.

Audio is delivered via a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track. Most of the action takes place in the front channels. Like I stated, imagery is the primary focal point here, but when the actors speak, the center channel delivers its dialogue in a clear and distinct manner.

There are some very nice offerings in the special features section. First up is the feature commentary with director Gavin Hood. It is a very informative and engaging session in which he shares his thoughts, background of the story and other interesting information. A very solid commentary indeed, as this project was close to his heart.

Next up is a 13-minute "Making Of" featurette, in which the director and cast discuss what it was like filming among real shanty-town slums. There are 2 alternate endings with optional director commentary in which you can see how the film would have played out if the director had gone with either one. Personally, I think he made the right decision with the ending he chose for the movie.

There are also 3 deleted scenes that feature optional commentary as well. Also included is a music video – "Mdlwembe by Zola."

The best part of the special features however is director Gavin Hood's short film, "The Store Keeper." An optional commentary is included in this powerful 22-minute film, shot without any dialogue whatsoever.

It is also set in South Africa, and tells its tale through imagery, about an old man who, tired of having his store robbed while he is asleep, decides to take matters into his own hands – with devastating results. It is based on a true story. The transfer for the short film is 1.85:1 and is rendered nicely on this DVD.

If you are a fan of films such as, "The City of God," I highly recommend giving "Tsotsi" a look.

Be prepared to invest your emotions as you go along for the ride.