(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry) 


(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry) 

        These two films have much more in common than just having one-word titles and subtitles. They are both foreign language films that have been getting good buzz on the film festival circuit. Tsotsi recently won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It is still in the theatres and Water has just opened. Both films tell the stories of people living in the grinding poverty of the Third World but who are somehow trying to rise above it. Water is all in Hindi, while Tsotsi is a bit like Monsoon Wedding since the characters bounce between Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, sometimes in the same sentence.

        Tsotsi is set in the twin cities of Johannesburg and Soweto in South Africa. Soweto, of course, is the black township that grew up next to the white city of Johannesburg. Even though things have been turned upside down in South Africa in the last 15 years, the economic divide between blacks and whites is still immense. In Tsotsi, the title character, Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) lives a tough life in Soweto engaging in petty crime with his posse. Tsotsi means thug. While stealing a car in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg, Tsotsi shoots the driver, and only after he has driven off, does he realize that the woman's baby is in the back seat. Rather than abandon the baby, Tsotsi takes the baby home with him. The presence of the baby has brought up a lot of emotions buried since childhood and Tsotsi wants to keep the baby. He quickly realizes that he can't care for it, so he follows a woman home and forces her to feed the baby. But the baby's parents and the police are looking for him. So Tsotsi must decide whether to try and change his life, and whether he is doing what is best for the baby.

        Water is set in a similar squalor in India in the 1930's. It tells the story of several widows. After their husbands die, they have three choices, marry their husband's younger brother, throw themselves on their husbands funeral pyre, or live as beggars. In Water, a group of widows live together in a house while trying to eke out a living. A young girl (Sarala), whose husband died before she has even reached puberty, is sent to live with them. She is bewildered and unhappy at being abandoned by her father. But Sarala is befriended by two younger widows (Lisa Ray & Seema Biswas) and slowly adapts to her new life. The women are grieving, not so much for their dead husbands, but for being banished forever from normal life. All of the women, with the exception of Lisa Ray, have had their heads shaved in the traditional manner. But Lisa Ray keeps her hair because she is works as a prostitute to raise money for the house. Everything changes when she meets a nice young man (John Abraham) who falls in love with her. The story of Water is set during a time of great change in India, when Gandhi is campaigning for independence from the English. Abraham believes in independence, both for India and for the widows. He tries to get Lisa Ray released from the house so that he can marry her.

        Water is directed by Deepa Mehta who now lives in Toronto, but was born in India. Water is the third film in her trilogy, following Fire and Earth. Water is a beautiful film, which juxtaposes the natural beauty of India with the ugliness of the lives of the poor. The cast is very good, and Sarala, who plays the little girl who is also a widow, is wonderful. Water is beautiful but very sad.

        Tsotsi is based a book by Athol Fugard who is best known as a playwright. He has been nominated for six Tony awards. The director is Gavin Hood. Tsotsi tells the time-worn story of a young tough in a death spiral but with the interesting twist of the baby. And the story doesn't end up like you might think it will, which is a nice change. Presley Chweneyagae, who is from Soweto and is making his film debut, does a great job as Tsotsi. He and his director, Hood, have produced a film that brings today's South Africa to life for the viewer in a very powerful way.