Two of the best films to be released theatrically so far this year are now available on DVD. If you missed either one, now, amid the flotsam and jetsam of the summer movie season, is a great opportunity to see some quality cinema.
Tsotsi—The winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, director Gavin Hood's adaptation of Athol Fugard's novel is a gritty portrait of a two-bit criminal in South Africa. Presley Chweneyagae stars as a small-time gang leader known as Tsotsi—which translates to "thug"—who leads his crew through the streets of Johannesburg. Tsotsi steals a car one night after shooting the owner in cold blood, only to discover his victim's infant son in the back seat. Unable to abandon the baby, Tsotsi attempts to care for the child, which leads him to an awakening of consciousness. While weighed down with violence and the bleak reality of impoverished life in South Africa, Hood's film is ultimately a parable about the redemption of the human soul.
Shakespeare Behind Bars—Hank Rogerson's brilliant documentary chronicles a nine-month program facilitated by Curt Tofteland at Kentucky's Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. As the film begins, the prisoners are just beginning a new session and preparing to mount a production of The Tempest. The inmates cast themselves in the various roles, and as the rehearsal process kicks into full gear, they begin to dig into the true meaning of the play, finding parallels between themselves and the characters. Perhaps more than any other Shakespeare play, The Tempest, the tale of a man who is driven by rage into isolation from society but who finds redemption, is closest to the lives of these men.
Rogerson offers a multilayered exploration of Tofteland's program. On the surface, Shakespeare Behind Bars is a profile of an acting troupe as it prepares to bring its show to the stage—which just happens to be within the confines of a prison. But on a much deeper level, the film is an intimate portrait of several key troupe members, who grapple with the sins of their past and look with hope toward their future.