The Wound is the directorial debut from filmmaker John Trengove that has been receiving some hot debate about its controversial look at the clash of tradition and modernity in South Africa. On a chilly Melbourne evening we made our way to the stunning Forum Theatre to see what all the fuss was about.
Every year teenage boys of the Xhosa people, an ethnic group of Southern Africa, are taken into the harsh African wilderness to undergo ukwaluka, a traditional circumcision ritual that marks their passage from childhood to the adult world. This story follows Xolani (aka X), a young man hired to mentor one of the boys, the son of a rich family friend, about to experience this ritual.
For X, allowing himself back into this world also gives him an opportunity to resume his sexual relationship with fellow mentor Vija. This is a world where same-sex attraction can seemingly never be accepted alongside cultural tradition. So when their secret is accidentally discovered, X is forced to confront the people within his culture as well as himself.
The beautifully shot film was an interesting change from traditional coming-of-age dramas, especially within the LGBT genre. We don’t necessarily like the lead Xolani — he is a quiet and introverted fly on the wall and our guide to this secretive men’s only world. Often watching how things play out, as well as lusting over Vija, X turns out to be stuck in his life, not wishing to move on from his secret and unrequited relationship with Vija.
The sex scenes and intimacy between the two leads feels completely natural – it’s refreshing to see the awkwardness and embarrassment surrounding this subject that’s not often portrayed on screen. The dark twists at the end are a good reminder, and this is not a spoiler, that not every story needs a happy ending to feel satisfying.
Casting predominantly non-professionals from the Xhosa community, this film gives insight into the difficulties of maintaining a traditional culture in the face of modernity, as well as what it can mean to be LGBT or otherwise different in a ultra-masculine and heteronormative environment. While these cultures and practices are based halfway across the globe, there is still so much to relate to for audiences in Australia.
Tomas Zagoda is a filmmaker, writer, coffee addict and tall person who does not play basketball. You can follow him on your social media channel of choice @TomasZagoda.
The Wound has a limited run at Melbourne International Film Festival. Buy tickets now.
The venue is accessible.