From South African filmmaker John Trengrove comes the controversial film, The Wound. It’s about a group of teenage boys of Xhosa background. They’re are taken to a remote bushland for their manhood initiation ceremony of ulwaluko – a circumcision.
Mentors, who have previously undergone the secret ritual, are on hand to help the boys through the healing process. Xolani (Nakhane Toure, in his film debut) is a lonely factory worker who is appointed as mentor to Kwanda (Niza Jay, also his film debut), a spoiled rich kid from the city. Kwanda’s father 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. He’s 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 actions threaten both Xolani and his future.
The Wound explores challenging and resonant themes of manhood, tradition, and sexuality. First time feature filmmaker Trengrove, and two first time screenwriters in Malusi Bengu and Xhosa novelist Thando Mgqolozana, provide the screenplay. Trengrove and his collaborators have clearly done plenty of research into this taboo subject and this secret ritual, which informs the material. They spent some five years interviewing Xhosa men who have undergone the ritual. Trengrove’s direction is unflinching in its honesty, but he is also respectful of the traditions of the Xhosa people.
Apart from the two leads (both with a theatre background) most of the performers are non-professionals. They have also undergone this ritual, and they bring their personal experiences. This lends a rawness and authenticity to their performances. Paul Ozgur shoots the film in beautiful widescreen, giving us some beautiful imagery of this stark setting.
The Wound is a powerful film that offers some insight into a world about which we know little. The film travelled well on the festival circuit. It has however been the source of controversy and drama in its native South Africa. Cinemas there have cancelled some screenings due to threats and protests.
Director: John Trengrove
Cast: Nakhane Toure, Niza Jay, Bongile Mantsai
Release Date: 8 February 2018 (limited)
Rating: MA 15+
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television