Berlinale Day 1: The Wound (2017)

A South African film was on show for the opening night of the Berlinale. Directed by John Trengove, it’s the story of Xolani, set against the backdrop of a local circumcision initiation ritual. Barely had I settled into my seat, that penises were being sliced up at the edge of a forest, in ad-hoc conditions. So, yeah, it caught my attention.

The whole story though finds itself at an interesting intersection between tradition, homosexuality and validation. For Xolani, who otherwise works in the city, it’s the yearly return ‘in the mountains’, to meet Vija, the man he loves. For Kwanda, Xolani’s initiate, it’s the pressure to conform with alpha male stereotypes. For most of the other participants, it’s a last stand in the face of modern turpitude, both a rite of passage into manhood and a rite of separation from the others. 

The first half or so of the movie, which sets the scene and introduces the characters, is almost fascinating. With strong acting all around, it’s easy to get sucked into the experience and what’s even more impressive, is the manner in which Trengove infuses such sensibility in something that otherwise could count as butch. The contrasting personalities are wrought with tension, culminating in some beautiful moments of just…being. It all comes to life thanks to commanding craftsmanship and an eye for strong visuals, which is one consistent feature throughout.

Unfortunately, the latter part of the film elects to go for a more traditional exposition and resolution, with uneven pacing. What’s worse though is the characters losing some of their sharpness, especially in scenes where they are turned into mere rhetoric tools. By the time the finale came around, I felt waywardly uninvolved. It’s like the need for relevance and clarity became overbearing.

All things considered, The Wound stands as a film that, at its best, conveys a unique poetic restraint. It might not shine all the way through, yet it provides insight into a corner of the world that’s usually left in the dark, tackling some big themes on the way. I would never want to fault someone for being too ambitious, so The Wound gets my recommendation.


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