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CITY PRESS REVIEWS: The Wound

2017-02-19 06:01
 
The Wound

Johannesburg - Here is an excerpt from an opinion piece by Cosmopolitan magazine’s Mela Ngaba on her offence after watching the trailer of The Wound.

Before I’m an open-minded, big-city girl, I am Xhosa – that’s my identity. It was as a Xhosa woman that I felt angry watching this trailer; even writing this has been difficult for me.

One thing is for sure: I will not be watching the full film. Why? Because the Xhosa initiation rite – intended to prepare young men for manhood – has always been shrouded in secrecy, largely out of respect for the tradition. As a young girl, I remember asking family and friends about it. I understood that it involved circumcision and a period of seclusion for the initiate, often for a month or so, but that’s it. All of my family and friends refused to divulge any further details. This is because the process is considered deeply sacred.

Seeing such a sacred process exposed in so much detail via this trailer was incredibly upsetting for me. Why did such private parts of Xhosa tradition need to be so irreverently ignored in order to create a dialogue about masculinity and homosexuality? I’m certain this conversation could have been ignited without such a disrespectful depiction.

It makes me angry that something so intrinsically important to Xhosa culture has become diluted to a film festival competition entry. Is the disregard for traditional practice worth the shock factor I believe John Trengove and his team think will win them an accolade overseas?

See the trailer here:

City Press' Review:

The long-awaited South African film , which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opened the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival last week, tells of events that take place during a Xhosa circumcision ceremony. But for those who are concerned about the film revealing the secrets of the ukwaluka initiation ritual, there is little that has not already been described by writers and artists, including former president Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom.

Instead, director John Trengove, in collaboration with co-writers Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bengu, explores the sexual tension between two of the caregivers, Xolani (Nakhane Touré) and Vija (Bongile Mantsai), a tension that is pulled all the tauter owing to the provocations of the young, middle class initiate Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), whom Xolani is given the responsibility of accompanying into manhood and who, unlike Xolani, makes no attempt to hide his sexual orientation. The resulting narrative is dense with meaning in which social, political and emotional aspects of life converge.

Inxeba is a remarkably brave film. And yet, it would be wrong to use the word daring to describe it. There will no doubt be a backlash about a white man telling this story. For my part, as a white man too, I get no sense that Trengove has entered this delicate cultural arena with the aim of titillation or exploitation, but other reviewers may see it differently. And while locating a queer romance within the ukwaluka might seem like deliberate incitement, the film’s crew, including an extensive cast of nonprofessional actors from the local community, render the narrative without sensation, to the point of toning down the film’s cinematic qualities. There is no over-aesthetisation of the African landscape or African bodies. There is no overwhelming sense of the mythopoeic. What there is, is the simple – and not always elegant – poetry of human truth, complexity and desire.

The result is a film that, while grounded in specifics and that exposes much beneath the surface of contemporary South African society, is also universal in its resonance, despite all the complexity of making a film about a secret cultural ritual.

Inxeba brought to mind the writings and queer romances of James Baldwin, in which brutality and tenderness are virtually always constant bedfellows. It’s also hard not to think of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, in which the forces of cultural oppression, although almost physically invisible, were just as strong and claustrophobic as they are here. Indeed, while Inxeba and Lee’s films are very different works, they make fine companion pieces. Both are instant classics that are packed with the complexities of the societies that produced them and that use a profound intimacy as a means of exploring the larger world.

Inxeba doesn’t so much interrogate masculinities as it brings to the surface the desperate need for masculinities to be interrogated and engaged with.

This may well be one of the reasons the film is achieving such resonance with critics from around the world and with viewers at Sundance and in Berlin. South Africa is a country of damaged masculinities in a world where masculinity itself is both perceived as threatened and violently out of control.

The wound of the title refers directly to the healing of a small patch of skin at the end of the penis, but the real wound, the film suggests, is far, far larger.

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