Repressed sexuality and a constant need to define masculinity becomes a recipe for turmoil in this heartbreaking film.
There is no easy way to define masculinity. Each country, community and person has their own unique perception of it. Whether it is a necessity to provide for one’s family or to have a sense of individualism, there are a multitude of perspectives of what masculinity is and should be. In John Trengrove’s “The Wound,” the conflicting notions of manhood come to foray as rural and urban ideologies clash between one another.
“The Wound” tells the rarely told story of the Xhosa people and their rite of passage. Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini) is an outspoken Xhosa teenager who was raised in the tribally vilified city of Johannesburg. His father, alarmed at his son’s nonconformist disposition, insists that he return to his rural community to perform the ukwaluka and become a man in society’s eye. It is a test of endurance, strength and fortitude wherein him and other initiates are circumcised and forced to stay in the bush until their wounds heal. For weeks, the boys perform menial yet manhood-proving tasks that include chopping wood and fasting before they are deemed men by the tribe’s elders.
Assisting them along are the caregivers, men who have undergone the ritual years prior. They are there to dress the wound, oversee their performing of duties and ensure that they finish the rite. Kwanda’s caregiver, Xolani (played by the wonderful Nakhane Touré) is a troubled and closeted homosexual factory worker who is having a secret affair with Vija (Bongile Mantsai), a fellow brutish, self-loathing caregiver. Both return every year, using it as a cover for their tryst. Soon enough, the lives of all three begin intertwining in a dangerous dance of sexuality, violence and dissidence.
Marking his directorial feature debut, John Trengove has proven to be a more-than-capable filmmaker, coming to present his audience with a richly thematic work. The coming-of-age drama is both heartbreaking and beautiful in its exploration of oft-overlooked tales of homosexuality in African society. As the title suggests, the wound that Trengove seems to referring to both the physical wound that the boys endure from their circumcision ritual and the festering mental one that threatens to unravel the lives of everyone involved.
With wonderfully attentive camera work from Paul Ozgur, the film lives and breathes the dichotomies of modern South Africa. The old world of the rural is continuously contrasted with the sweeping, contemporary city, which is affectionately–or perhaps hatefully–nicknamed Joburg throughout the film. Whether it is the glittering cityscape that hangs over the bush like an overbearing presence or Kwanda’s rebellious act of listening to techno music in his traditional garb and paint, the film magnifies the polarity between the two worlds to a beautiful degree.
Beyond the expertly crafted cinematography and wondrously brave characterizations, the film’s soundscapes are hauntingly touching. From the roaring waterfall that drowns out the pain of Vija and Xolani’s lost love to the pronounced late-introduction of melos to signal the pair’s confrontation, the film does an excellent job of demonstrating the psychological plight that individuals like Xolani and Vija face every day by repressing their sexual inclinations.
But perhaps most poignant about “The Wound” is its representation of homosexuality on screen. While other films like “Beauty” (2011) and “Dakan” (1997) had explored the continent’s tumultuous relationship with LGBTQ individuals and rights, few other films have done it so viscerally. As a result, the film comes off as a brilliantly powerful portrayal of manhood and the tragic issues that arise from staving off one’s inherent feelings that might conflict with society’s perceptions of it.
“The Wound” screened as part of the New Directors/New Films Festival and has been picked up for distribution by Kino Lorber. The film is slated to be theatrically released in the US sometime in the summer before hitting VOD later this year.