International Oscar Showdown 2006 — Crash vs Tsotsi

The 78th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were Crash and Tsotsi

“That was toilet.”

I’m inclined to agree with her. However, as a writer, it is my duty to elaborate upon her insightful three-word review — to the tune of, say, 1,400 words.

Poster for the movie Crash
Poster for the movie Crash
Paul Haggis’s Crash

Crash dummies

As is evident form the above convoluted synopsis, the film is extremely plot-heavy, and feels more like an episode of a 90s television show, with short, snappy scenes that not so much develop the theme of racism as paste it all over the screen with tiresome regularity. That makes for ample examples of what makes this film “toilet”, but let’s take just the first sequence to examine.

Opening gambit

Also consider how this is the line of dialogue that informs the title: Crash. It’s unusual to blurt out the meaning of your obscure title from the outset and forgo that cathartic nod of understanding from the audience later on. Examples include The Shining, which we learn is the supernatural sense that little Danny wields; Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a quote from an Alexander Pope poem that Mary recites; and The Silence Of The Lambs is, of course, in reference to Clarice’s haunting childhood memory of trying to save lambs from the slaughter. There are hundreds of others: Layer Cake, The Untouchables, Rain Man to name a handful.

Subverting expectations

Waters’ girlfriend, Ria, gets out of the car and walks across the street to address the woman who crashed into the back of them— an Asian woman as it turns out. Setting aside the lazy stereotype of Chinese people making bad drivers, the pair start racially abusing each other, with Ria ridiculing the Asian woman’s accent (“Blake lights?”). Somewhere in that malaise, we are supposed to catch that Ria is a detective — and one who responds to the public with racial slurs.

Bad to worse

The film does, however, have one further gear: repulsive. There are several offensive moments, but perhaps the most egregious is also the one that the filmmakers thought was their most powerful, and plastered it over the marketing materials. I’m referencing specifically the moment in which racist, misogynist cop Ryan drags from a burning car the black woman he sexually abused earlier, and is (in some unrecognisable universe) redeemed.

A scene from Crash in which Christine sobs in the arms of her hero, Ryan, who also happened to sexually abuse her earlier
A scene from Crash in which Christine sobs in the arms of her hero, Ryan, who also happened to sexually abuse her earlier
Probably the worst scene in the worst film

Thug life

To win this International Oscar Showdown, then, all a film would need to do is not call your mum a twat. South African drama Tsotsi succeeds in this admirably.

Poster for the movie Tsotsi
Poster for the movie Tsotsi
Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi

Badfellas

This is a redemption story, but one with an extraordinarily long leap from heartless reprobate to reasonable human. Alas, the steppingstones provided actually hinder that process. For instance, we initially wonder why Tsotsi takes the baby from the back seat of the car, rather than dropping the child somewhere it can be recovered by the parents, or even leaving it in the abandoned vehicle. Perhaps there’s some paternal spark in him that can change his outlook on life? But his subsequent negligence for the infant is akin to child abuse, as he attempts to feed stale bread to the three-month-old, or pour condensed milk into its mouth direct from the sharp metal edges of a tin can.

Product of environment

There are flashbacks to help us forge a path to empathy, wherein we see David as a boy, watching his mother die of an unknown condition (though HIV/Aids is heavily implied throughout the film). We also see his abusive father deny him access to his mother and then drunkenly kick a dog to death. Providing probably the best shot of the film, we learn David ran away and lived with other children in a number of stacked pipe sections near an abandoned construction site.

Children sleeping in pipe sections in Tsotsi

Retrospective result

So, the question is: Did Tsotsi call my mum a twat? No. It did not. That makes it superior to its infamously nauseating competition, so it’s yet another win to the Internationals. Tsotsi is one of my least favourite winners of this category, but since it was up against the worst Best Picture of all time, lucky Tsotsi.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.