The beginning of The Wound shows its protagonist, Xolani, working alone in a warehouse. He operates a forklift in a POV shot from a stable camera mounted to the front panel. As he maneuvers, the lock-down technique of shooting fixes him in position while giving us dizzying parallax beyond. The combined movement and claustrophobia of this framing is indicative of Xolani’s disposition: closed off and controlled, no matter how active the background. This tight, industrial setting contrasts with the expansive and serene one that Xolani inhabits for the rest of the film, being a mentor in the days-long Xhosa initiation ritual of manhood in the South African wilderness. Yet Xolani’s closeted homosexuality, his defiant and possibly gay initiate, and his renewal of a secret relationship with another closeted mentor fills this backdrop with more turbulent inner conflict and icy restraint than the simple invocation of a menial job could produce. However, the intersection of these circumstances will begin to chip away at the foundation.
Openly gay African singer Nakhane Touré plays Xolani, and Bongile Mantsai his reluctant lover, Vija. The relationship is push-and-pull, appearing personal on Xolani’s end and casual on Vijas. Since he is not a city-dweller to begin with, and as indicated by his occupation, Xolani is burdened with an extreme sense of isolation, loneliness, and routine. When Vija is distant and cold, he attempts to get physically intimate with Kwanda, his initiate (Niza Jay), but is rebuffed. What is meant to be hidden becomes an open secret between the three. Tensions mount when Kwanda is singled out by the other young men for his standoffish attitude and moodiness. Rumors about his sexuality pop up, and his obstinate behavior begins to reflect poorly on gentle-handed Xolani. Concurrently, Vija’s hypermasculinity is admired by the more rowdy initiates, and his alternating dominance and aloofness become exaggerated in a teetering display of overcompensation.
Soon, the three come to represent different tendencies on a spectrum of conflicting masculine identities. The dominant/submissive dynamic between Xolani and Vija provides a certain stability and control needed for them to conceal their love. The more open and affectionate Xolani becomes, the more inhibited and combative Vija gets, shooting down most opportunities for closeness and passion that might escalate into a public reveal. Kwanda gives off an undefinable, non-gendered mystique and sensitivity which is seen as prissiness by his peers and stubbornness by his mentor. His denial of expectations and apparent indifference to being ostracized, as well as an occasional flamboyance and lack of refutation of rumors regarding his sexuality, disrupts the dynamic between Xolani and Vija. It empowers and agitates the former while threatening and diminishing the latter. As tensions reach a tipping point, the question of the true nature of Xolani and Vija’s relationship, as well as the general question of what defines a man, comes into question, and dread lurks around the corner.
Sometimes the execution of the story is understated to a fault considering the emotional content, but the film is otherwise a well-crafted and thoughtful dissection of masculinity, both toxic and benevolent. Equally impressive is the simplistic and handheld but still expressive cinematography which captures the wilderness beautifully while never indulging in expansive landscape photography, keeping the atmosphere small and intimate. There was a certain detachment I felt throughout watching the film which detracted from my enjoyment, although it doesn’t necessarily take away from the film’s general ideas and themes, among which is the detachment and numbness felt by those who must hide in plain sight. | Nic Champion
The extras on the disc include an interview with director John Trengove and one of his short films, The Goat, from 20