Compelling faces, not dialogue, drive story in `Tsotsi'

Critics' picks: New DVDs

July 16, 2006|By SARAH KICKLER KELBER

TSOTSI -- Miramax Home Entertainment -- $29.99

When screenwriter-director Gavin Hood gave his acceptance speech for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for Tsotsi earlier this year, it wasn't about him.

"Please stand up, Presley Chweneyagae and Terry Pheto, my two fantastic young leads," he said during his speech. "Put the cameras on them, please."

And for good reason. While the story - which Hood adapted from the only novel written by famed South African playwright Athol Fugard - is gripping, it's these two actors who make the film, out on DVD Tuesday, believable and real.

The film follows a seemingly heartless and effortlessly violent young man known only as Tsotsi (Johannesburg street slang for "thug"; played by Chweneyagae) who steals a car and shoots its owner, only to discover later that he's also kidnapped a baby who was sleeping in the back seat.

At first, the child's death seems imminent, but it soon becomes clear that Tsotsi might have a tinge of decency - something a fellow thug had just been chiding him about.

Pheto plays Miriam, a young neighbor in Soweto whom Tsotsi forces to feed and help take care of the baby.

Miriam's tender treatment of the child forces Tsotsi to confront his childhood, or lack thereof, as well as contemplate what the loss of this child might mean to his parents.

Hood explains in a "making-of" feature that he wanted to use very little dialogue to tell this story, and this works thanks to the strengths of his lead actors. Both communicate subtle and major emotional shifts - of which there are many in this story of redemption - using only their expressive faces and a handful of words.

Special features

The DVD includes a commentary track with Hood, two alternate endings, a number of deleted scenes and a music video from Zola, an artist whose "Kwaito" (or urban South African hip-hop) music is featured throughout the film.

In addition, there is the aforementioned "making-of" feature that provides illuminating background information, including what it was like to film in the tenements in South Africa.

The last feature is Hood's short film The Shopkeeper, which goes a step further than Tsotsi and tells a story without any dialogue.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

AN EARLY FROST --Wolfe Video -- $19.95

This 1985 TV movie was the first - on television or the big screen - to deal specifically with the AIDS crisis. Aidan Quinn stars as a lawyer who is forced to tell his parents that he is gay when he is diagnosed with AIDS. The film was written by Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman, who created the 1990s NBC series Sisters and the Showtime series Queer as Folk. Once you get past how dated and over-the-top An Early Frost occasionally feels (it was a 1980s TV movie, after all), the film has a message of tolerance and AIDS education that comes through clearly. Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Bill Paxton and Terry O'Quinn also appear in the film. Bonus features include a commentary track with Cowen, Lipman and Quinn, and Tina DiFeliciantonio's 1987 Emmy-winning short documentary, Living With AIDS.

[SARAH KICKLER KELBER]

sarah.kelber@baltsun.com

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