The Wound: film review (kykNET Silwerskermfees 2017)

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The Wound – Landmark Cinema

Xolani, a lonely factory worker, joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best kept secret, Xolani's entire existence begins to unravel.

Directed by: John Trengove

Written by: Malusi Bengu, Thando Mqgolozana, John Trengove

Starring: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini

When I say The Wound is transformative, I don’t use the word casually. With great care and respect, John Trengove and his team disconnect you from your world, and walk alongside you into a world foreign to most. You are made to wince, to care deeply, even for loathsome characters, and ultimately, you are left winded by the weight of patriarchy and the tragic, yet perfect, end.

The wide angles and close-ups, the lush landscape and cicadas buzzing, Xolani’s gentle soul versus Vija’s rage, the men singing and telling tales, the silences and cacophony all blend together in a perfectly balanced piece of art. The one element does not overshadow the other – the sign of a great film.

What adds to the gravitas of the film is Trengove’s mode of storytelling, what he chose to show or not show. He could thrust patriarchy in your face. He could shock you with blood and guts and shattered bodies. That would be the easy way. Instead, he draws you in, shows you something beautiful and fragile and worth caring for, and then crushes it. It is a sucker punch of note.

Contrary to what the haters would have you believe, The wound does not give away any more Xhosa initiation secrets than Nelson Mandela did in his autobiography, The long walk to freedom. The initiation ceremony is only the backdrop for a story mainly dealing with patriarchy and homophobia, power versus [perceived] weakness.

On the positive side, I found the camaraderie between the boys being initiated and the care they receive from their carers heart-warming. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves, they want to share their experiences with other men, and they do need guidance.

On the negative side, this caring, nurturing system quickly turns to a crushing, unyielding fist when the boys do not subscribe to their idea of masculinity. It leads to other initiates taunting “soft” boys; but, more importantly, it leads to internalised homophobia, hidden lives and a rage towards individuals who dare to defy the patriarchy, the beliefs and traditions.

[Spoiler alert:] What I found the most tragic, the most upsetting, is that Xolani and Vija, the carers in charge of young, vulnerable minds, perpetuate this very system that is forcing them into submission. The young, rebellious initiate under Xolani’s care, Kwanda, who questions the system, who is much more comfortable in his homosexuality, is not taken care of, is not protected.

That brings me to the final scene, where the initiates and carers return home, and the women (for the first time appearing on screen) and children await them, singing and dancing. The camera focuses on the face of a young boy, a boy that will one day go through the same initiation. If he fits the masculinity the system prescribes, he will be respected, loved and embraced. If he dares to be different, to question the beliefs, he will be crushed.

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