A surprising and challenging examination of masculinity and repressed sexuality that is closer to home than it first lets on.
It is an exciting time in LGBTQ+ cinema, and with more mainstream offerings such as Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight making waves at the big awards, there are also a plethora of under the radar options as well. Sadly, The Wound (aka Inxeba) narrowly missed out on an Oscar nomination in the foreign language category, which is a great shame as this was in many ways a surprising and challenging watch that demands to be seen by a wider audience.
The story focuses on Xolani (Nakhane Touré), a so-called “city boy” who travels to the rural mountains with the men of his community to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. Hiding a forbidden love, this film sees Xolani facing the challenges of an overwhelmingly male-dominated society, and the dangers this poses to his repressed sexuality. Tackling topics such as genital mutilation, and with some graphic scenes of ritualistic animal sacrifice, this is not a film for everyone, and it is undoubtedly a very difficult film to watch in places. It is however a unique and thought-provoking film; its study of masculinity being particularly fascinating and with reaches far beyond its cultural restraints.
The Wound boils with a quiet intensity, and there is the constant sense that we the audience are the observers to this introspective world, both in terms of the cultural traditions, and the brief releases of the sexual tension. The scenes of intimacy gradually progress from being quite raw and uncompromising, being shot with harsh framing or silhouetted in near-darkness, to being noticeably more sensual and intimate as the truth quietly reveals itself. Throughout, we are made to feel like the outsiders, and this does make for an alienating watch in places, but the performances and the quietness of the whole thing are captivating.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about this film is the jarring lack of a female presence. The film doesn’t include a single female character, women are only referred to in passing and either in a derogatory manner, or with the clear sense that they have no purpose beyond the home and family. The sense of overwhelming male dominance is stifling, and with the overriding theme of this film being the transition from boyhood to manhood, it is even more prevalent.
Pairing this idea of male dominance with the power balance of the “caregivers” and the “initiates” in this ritualistic society is also an interesting one. There’s shades of a dominant and submissive relationship which is even more intriguing given that this film deals so much with repressed homesexuality as well.
A difficult film to watch, and this is perhaps why the Academy weren’t as on board with it, The Wound is still a film well worth watching. As a man, it is challenging, and as a woman it is surprising and educational; it might not be for everyone but there is some kind of take-away for everyone.