Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: John Trengrove

Stars: Nakhane Toure, Niza Jay Ncoyini Bongile Mantsai.

Image result for the wound inxeba movie images

From South African filmmaker John Trengrove comes this controversial coming of age film about a group of adolescent boys of Xhosa background who are taken to a remote bushland for their traditional manhood initiation ceremony of ulwaluka – i.e.: a circumcision. It is a dangerous ritual, and indeed many young men have died as a result.

Mentors, who have previously undergone the secret ritual, are on hand to help the boys through the lengthy healing process. Xolani (musician and novelist Nakhane Toure, in his film debut) is a lonely and quiet and closeted factory worker who is appointed as mentor to Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini, in his film debut), a spoiled rich kid from the city. Kwanda’s uncle thinks he is soft and believes that Xolani and the ritual will toughen him up. Kwanda questions the ritual and the necessity of it in these more enlightened modern times, and he is ostracised by most of the other boys. Kwanda is also wrestling with his own sexuality. But then he uncovers a personal secret that ties Xolani with Vija (Bongile Mantsai), another veteran mentor and his childhood friend, and his actions threaten both Xolani and his carefully guarded identity. The clash of personalities between Xolani and Kwanda drives the drama.

The Wound (aka Inxeba), which has been written by first time feature filmmaker Trengrove and two first time screenwriters in Malusi Bengu and Xhosa novelist Thando Mgqolozana explores challenging and resonant themes of manhood, masculinity, tradition, sexuality, cultural identity, the clash of cultures, patriarchy, homophobia, what it means to be an outsider. Trengrove brings a palpable undercurrent of violence to the material as well. Trengrove and his collaborators have clearly done plenty of research into this taboo subject and this secretive ritual, which informs the material. They spent some five years interviewing Xhosa men who have undergone the ritual. Something of an outsider to this world himself, Trengrove’s direction is unflinching in its honesty, but he is also respectful of the traditions of the Xhosa people. There is an almost documentary-like feel to some portions of the film.

The three leads are all excellent in their roles. Apart from the leads, most of the performers are non-professionals who have also undergone this ritual, and they bring their personal experiences which lends a rawness and authenticity to their performances.

The film has been beautifully shot in widescreen by cinematographer Paul Ozgur (a veteran of short films), who gives us some beautiful imagery of this stark landscape setting. He also captures some striking contrasts with the young men adorned in their ghostly white make-up and traditional ceremonial costumes. The title itself has a nice double meaning – it not only refers to the physical wound of the circumcision but also the psychological scars that many of the film’s characters have to deal with as they confront their own sexuality.

The Wound is a tough but powerful film that offers some insight into a world about which we know little. But its frank look at queer imagery and identity has also hit something of a raw nerve in South Africa. The film has travelled well on the festival circuit, but has been the source of much controversy and drama in its native South Africa, where cinemas have been forced to cancel screenings due to threats and protests. Nonetheless this is an impressive debut, and stamps Trengrove as a filmmaker to watch in the future.


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