Film review: The Wound

The Wound
Director: John Trengove
Release Date: February 8

Male circumcision is generally seen as a benign practice when performed on a small child for health, religious or cultural reasons. Performed without anaesthetic on an adult make it seem to have more in common with female genital mutilation and does more than send shivers up one’s spine.

But in the film, The Wound, this is all part of becoming a man in the traditional Xhosa community.

The film, set in rural South Africa, follows a group of male teens and their “caregivers” during an annual rite of passage through which they will enter manhood. The boys are taken to a remote location where one of the elders circumcises them, telling them to shout out “I’m a man” as they are cut. The boys, covered in white clay then spend the next few weeks sitting in their small huts or outside, not drinking or sleeping, tending a fire which must not go out.

 This Xhosa ritual was largely kept secret within the tribe but more recently it has been acknowledged notably when Nelson Mandela made reference to it in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

In the film we follow the 30-year-old Xolani (Nakhane Toure), who has previously undergone the ritual returning to his tribal area to serve as caregiver to one of his young relatives, a softie who has come from Johannesburg.

Xolani has also come back to meet his childhood friend Vija (Bongile Mantsai) with whom he has had a homosexual relationship even through Vija, who acts in a very macho manner is married.

The young boy Xolani cares for is Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), who is very different from his rural peers and questions aspects of the ritual, alienating himself from the other boys and the elders.

The film slowly reveals aspects of the relationship between Xolani and Vija as well as the fact that Kwanda is also gay. This leads to tensions between the three main characters as well as with family and the wider community.

The film, which has attracted awards at several film festivals, has created a furore in South Africa particularly, with the Xhosa people objecting to the depiction of the ritual as well as the references to gay relationships.

It’s a remarkable film in the way it combines a story of personal relationships with an almost anthropological study of a traditional rite. There is both a celebration of the tradition as well as a questioning of its relevance.

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