Eastern Cape, South Africa. Far from the freedoms of the modern world. A lonely factory worker, Xolani (Nakhane Touré), takes leave to assist in the annual Xhosa male circumcision ceremony in a remote mountain camp. Women are forbidden and young men await their initiation painted all in white, competing in a fanfare of aggression and machismo. Xolani disrupts the codes of masculinity once his secret love for another man is revealed.
As westerners, we see FGM and circumcision rituals on news reports but a lot of these sensationalist, colonialist depictions seldom delve deeper than disgust. The Wound offers an unflinching exploration into traditions of gender coding that once seemed so bullet-proof but have become fluid and disrupted by modern thinking.
The camera lingers on the male bodies, at times sexualising them, creating a swirling tension as Xolani must always prove that he is the bigger man.
Director John Trengrove discussed the desire to expand the perception of African masculinity with Vanity Fair: “If you look at African cinema in general the depictions of black masculinity are so incredibly narrow and very one-dimensional.” He says: ”There was a real absence of complex and alternative male characters, and an absence of queer imagery in South African film.”
The discovery of Xolani’s secret by some of the young boys sends ripples throughout the claustrophobic camp and forces some of the participants to call into question the centuries-old traditions they are perpetuating. The emotional journey Xolani makes ranges from the beleaguered to the heart-wrenchingly perplexed as he wrestles with this burden of adhering to the code.
Trengrove side-steps cultural appropriation accusations by handing over control of image to the Xhosa community, who helped him shape and render the film’s authenticity. Visually, The Wound depicts its characters less like an anthropological documentary but more as a fly-on-the-wall, as if the audience were taking part in the ritual themselves; forcing the viewer to question their stance and reaction to what is still considered by most to be taboo.
The Wound does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.