A film that courted controversy in South Africa to the point of cast and crew receiving death threats (a situation that only highlights the film’s necessity), Trengove’s The Wound explores a tense homosexual relationship during a traditional Xhosa circumcision ceremony (Ulwaluko). The film follows Xolani (a fantastic Nakhane Touré), a lonely factory worker who helps out with the ceremony, serving as a mentor to young Kwanda (Ncoyini), a boy from Johannesburg who is also gay.
The revelation puts Xolani’s delicate situation under threat, as Kwanda sees through the facade that he and his partner Vija (Mantsai, also excellent) maintain to avoid scrutiny from their conservative peers. All three struggle with their sexuality; Vija hides through excessive shows of force and machismo, while Xolani mostly keeps to himself – both seem incapable of addressing the situation directly, often talking around their ‘friendship’. Kwanda is more honest, and this lands him in contention with almost all of those around him.
Paul Ozgur’s camerawork is raw and unflinching, portraying the situations with a matter-of-factness that fits well with the film’s direct examination of toxic masculinity in traditional African cultures. There’s no score to be found, lending the film a quietness that feels more tense than serene – and also giving more heft to shocking moments of sound design. The Wound would pair well with I Am Not a Witch.
However this all unfortunately leads to a misguided conclusion, a brief moment that feels predictable; a cheap attempt at shock that’s also wildly out-of-character. It doesn’t ruin the assuredness of the rest of the film, but it comes close.
A confident debut that questions conservatism in African society, The Wound is lifted by its raw portrayal of three men struggling with their identities, and nearly held down by its last minute attempt at melodrama.
CAST: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini
DIRECTOR: John Trengove
WRITERS: John Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu
SYNOPSIS: Xolani joins the other men of his community on a journey to the mountains to initiate a group of teenagers into manhood. His entire existence starts to unravel when a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, a forbidden love.