In Review: The Wound
Director: John Trengove
‘I’m a man!’ comes the repeated shout of Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), the moment after he has been ritualistically circumcised. It’s a brutal ceremony to watch and makes for a jarring backdrop to John Trengrove’s South African drama The Wound.
The ritual, known as Ulwaluko, involves men in the Xhosa community as they transition from boys to ‘men’. Xolani (known as ‘X’ through the film and played with a calm yet brooding presence by Nakhane Touré) is a reserved and reticent ‘caregiver’ who has been through the ceremony himself. He aids Kwanda through the process: the healing, the subsequent drinking sessions around a fire, the stories from the elders who also join the newly initiated.
X comes back to the mountain primarily to see Vija (Bongile Mantsai) - another caregiver who has a family back home. They are embarking on an affair that takes place during each year’s ceremony and happens silently, as they snatch short moments together - the sex is quick and lustful, ending in them parting as if nothing has happened.
Kwanda is a ‘city brat’ who is ridiculed for his shoes and upbringing by the other men in the camp. He very quickly sees what Xolani is hiding - it is suggested that he is gay - and isn’t afraid to challenge it. There is something of the guided leading the guide as he voices his ardent opinions on X’s ‘secret’.
Things begin to unravel in the group, as the power play between the caregivers results in reckless actions. There’s a sense of cabin fever too, with lines becoming blurred between those who hold the authority around the ceremonial proceedings and the boys being initiated.
The actors have relatively little experience in front of the camera which may have aided the authentic realism in the film. They give strong performances that convey the tension and masculinity surrounding the camp.
The direction is distinctive in the way Trengrove has created a traditional ceremony in a modern world. It's strange to see the new initiates in their robes juxtaposed with the caregiver’s beanies and tracksuits. In one scene, two characters talk on a vast South African landscape with telephone poles leering behind them. It all helps to shine a light on the complexities of the symbolic and deep rooted tradition related to such ceremonies and their place in the world today.
The title of the film is used to highlight not only the brutal physical changes taking place but also the internal plight of suppressed sexual feelings. The theme of what it means to be a man is central to Trengove’s dark and brutal film. The message here is simple and complicated at the same time: to be a man is to be true to oneself. TS