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Fri March 3, 2006
A worthy Oscar contender
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Hell is yourself [and the only redemption is] when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person." Tennessee Williams
An inadvertently abducted child during a carjacking? Yes, Julianne Moore's child in Freedomland a few weeks ago suffered this situation, but we were uncertain if Moore was telling the truth. In Tsotsi (Thug), the South African entry for best foreign-language Oscar, the "abduction" is played for real, and Presley Chweneyagae as the titular anti-hero is so movingly ambivalent about the crime, I wonder why he is not nominated for an Oscar.
Tsotsi heads a vicious gang preying on commuters in a Johannesburg train station. The abduction scenario brings him face to face with innocence in the form of the baby and the surrogate mother he arranges for the baby. While murder is still a part of the gang's act, the child changes things into a struggle between Tsotsi's gang and his redemption.
Director Gavin Hood contrasts powerfully the difference between the gated, Mercedes-populated homes and the squalor of the shack city, from which no one, not even a would-be teacher, can hope to escape. City of God had the same trapped feeling and similarly somber look to enhance the underworld ambience.
In the end this crime film is a morality play about sin and love. Although it is open for criticism for its sentimentality and common arc of redemption, it is a powerful statement about the transforming nature of guilt.
Tsotsi's a worthy Oscar contender morphing morality play simplicity into the sublime.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com