Xolani (Nakhane Touré) is just one of the many men of his community on a journey to the mountains to initiate a group of teenagers into manhood. The act itself consists of participating in a male-circumcision ritual that most men of this tribe get, but very few actually know about. X, as everyone calls him, is set to watch over and essentially coach Kwanda (Niza Jay), a rich kid from the city who doesn’t get along with the other initiates cause of his obvious wealth and the idea that he may be gay. The later is something that X, unbeknownst to everyone around him, can relate to, having had these feelings deep down inside a culture that doesn’t want anything to do with it. However, the whole ritual is thrown for a loop when a childhood friend, Vija (Bongile Mantsai), shows up and brings back old feelings of love and passion into X’s life. And the feelings are reciprocated, but once again, the culture they are surrounded by, having any sort of feelings for the same-sex, whether passionate or not, is a big no-no.
Unsurprisingly, the Wound is causing all sorts of issues over in South Africa for its depiction of homosexuality within a culture that is absolutely against it. Even more so, the movie does something incredibly smart in that it shows why this culture, while meaningful to those who are brought up in it, also has a few problems. For one, it’s a culture in which boys are literally brought in at 12-14 years of age, trained and prodded to become circumcised by other men, only to be told that, “Gay is wrong.”
Co-writer/director John Trengove understands that there is something wrong with this and it’s why the Wound, while also an effective entry into queer cinema, also goes above and beyond. There’s social-commentary here that, coming from a white guy, could have been deemed “racist”, but the proof is in the pudding and something seems to be wrong here; Trengove gets to the heart of the matter and allows us to think long and hard about the way society perpetuates homo-eroticism, yet, denies homosexuality in and of itself. Think of any professional male-athlete and how slapping someone’s ass is considered “congratulating them on a good job”, yet, doing that anywhere else that wasn’t on a field of some sorts, onto another man, would immediately cause an uproar.
A long-winded and stretching analogy for sure, but one that I think gets to what Trengove is trying to say: This kind of hate and discrimination is wrong, especially when what’s said to be wrong, is literally all-over-the-place and everywhere you look.
But like I said, the Wound is also an interesting character-study of a love-affair that gets weirder, darker, and more compelling as the movie goes along. Trengove is an interesting director as he films everything at a distance, to where we can feel the sexual passion, but we never fully understand it, either; X is, essentially, in love with someone who can’t, or better yet, won’t, love him because of issues with society. Instead, he seems to use X for a little run-and-hump, leaving him half-naked, alone, in the bushes, and without any idea of what he’s supposed to do. It’s sad and generally disturbing, but such is the case with love, especially when it’s unrequited.
Nakhane Touré is also pretty great as X, as he gets a lot done without saying much of anything at all. We feel this man’s heartbreak and sadness within each and every frame and as the movie goes on, we start to sympathize with him a whole lot more, even if we sort of want him to wake up, snap out of it, and move on with someone else who will love and accept him for, well, him. As the receiving end of his affection, Bongile Mantsai does a solid job of never making it clear whether or not we should trust him as a generally nice person who loves X, or as a creep who preys on younger-men who may be sexually-confused.
But the real stand-out is probably Niza Jay as Kwanda, “the initiate”, who lets on that he’s a lot dumber and clueless than he actually is. The three of these characters create something of an interesting love-triangle that could be meaningful, but could also be insanely creepy and it’s more than enough to keep the Wound interesting, even when it does the eventual dive into melodrama. And it all leads up to an ending that is unsatisfying and a little silly, but it also leaves a lot of threads hanging and for that, it’s still impressive.
Still, wish it had a better ending.
Consensus: Thought-provoking, yet, tender and smart, the Wound is a rare accomplishment in queer cinema that tells an interesting love-story, amidst a community of our planet that so rarely gets looked at and needs to, for obvious reasons.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Kino Lorber