The Wound (2017)

The Wound (Inxeba) by John Trengove stars Nakhane Touré in a tense drama of gay male sexuality brought into focus by the traditional Xhosa circumcision rite of passage.

Blood Brothers

by Alexa Dalby

The Wound

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A feature film debut is a rite of passage for a director as is the ritual of male circumcision that is both the core reality and metaphor of this compelling drama. The Wound is a sensitive portrayal of the traditional Xhosa custom as it continues in modern South African society. A group of ‘initiates’ – teenage boys – is taken out into the bush, where they are circumcised and live together for two weeks until their wounds are healed.

In the rainbow nation there are tensions between tradition and modernity as society changes – between traditional notions of masculinity that some are trying to hang onto and modern society’s more varied or more nuanced take on it. Xolani (a powerful and tender performance by musician Nakhane Touré) has a dead-end job in the city and he returns every year to take on the role of ‘caregiver’ to the initiates – but in reality, he uses this as his cover for fleetingly renewing his relationship with his childhood friend Vija (Bongile Mantsai), another caregiver. A sexual relationship between two men is taboo in their community. Each of them is in denial in a different way – Xolani lonely and unrequitedly, and Vija, married with two children, by aggressive macho posturing.

What threatens to derail the usual format of the ceremony is Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), a reluctant city boy sent there by his well-off, made-good father who wants him to return to his heritage. More sophisticated than his peers and refusing to conform, he’s at home in his gay skin even though he’s treated as an outsider. He sees through Xolani and Vija’s subterfuge and is outspoken enough to call Xolani out on his hopeless longing for Vija and urge him to acknowledge his sexuality.

Though it’s a ritual whose details are traditionally kept secret, because of Trenlove’s advisers the circumcision events are accurately presented and well observed, shot discreetly and with empathy. Irony is there as the boys, white painted and dressed only in the traditional blankets, sit around the campfire at night discussing the merits of iPhones and BlackBerrys, reinforcing the theme of transition under way. The wide landscapes of the remote bush are a stunning background to the gripping three-way drama that develops. It’s a poignant, insightful mix of belonging and longing, with an underlying sense of danger that leads to a surprising twist. Supporting characters are authentic and all three central characters give superb performances.

The Wound screened at Sundance, the Berlinale, the BFI London Film Festival, where it won the Best First Feature award, and is released on 27 April 2018 in the UK.

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