Xolani (Nakhane Touré) works at a warehouse during the day, but he has other tasks to take care of, specifically his role as a so-called caregiver in the secret ceremonies of his Xhosa tribe. This is an initiation where young men are circumcised to effectively signal the beginning of their journey to manhood, but Xolani has other reasons to be interested in manhood, since he is in love with another of the caregivers, Vija (Bongile Mantsai), who may be married with a wife and kids, but his heart belongs to his pal. The rites provide the perfect excuse for them to get out into the countryside and in the isolation that offers intimacy - but this time, it seems they have a secret no longer.
The Wound was extremely controversial in its native South Africa, not least among the Xhosa community who regarded it as a betrayal of trust when details of their initiations were included in this drama for all to see. Doubly controversial was the fact director John Trengove, and his co-writers Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bengu were critical of what amounted to male genital mutilation, as opposed to the already barbaric female genital mutilation which was already facing demands to be stopped in communities across the globe, not only South Africa: that the film equated both forms as a harm that we should have grown out of by this point in the twenty-first century angered many.
Did this have a point in that critical nature? As the film wore on, it became clear it was less interested in the justification for the circumcision than it was to accuse the locals of hypocritical intolerance when it came to the homosexual members of their tribes. Making a link between an obsession with the penis in these rituals and the tendency towards being gay was not going to win them many fans in the more conservative African societies, and you have to say there were plenty of straight men for whom discussing their genitals and precisely what they wanted to do with them was part and parcel of a macho culture in every nation in the world - were they closet cases too?
Perhaps it was more the confidence that rested in the penis that brought men to be quite so preoccupied with their own and other people's, all that phallic talk and imagery bolstering their status as alpha males and aspiring beta males, which was concentrated into a crucible of tradition in what we saw in this film. It may have been something of a stretch to make the comparison as the events in The Wound for a microcosm of the wider world, yet that's what Trengove appeared to be aiming for, and to be fair he managed what was more of a think piece than any kind of vital drama. No matter that dramatic things occurred, there was the sense of this as a thesis rather than a more obvious narrative, even with the denouement that lapsed into a melodrama that seemed unnecessary.
There was a class aspect to this as well, for one of the initiates is a "city boy", Kwanda (Niza Jay), who comes from a rich family who want him toughened up and brings out some resentment from his poorer brethren. He quietly questions the validity of the traditions, shaking up the status quo to an extent though he still goes through with the ceremonies, yet planting the seed of dissent in the minds of some of his contemporaries, and certainly making Xolani ponder why he is taking part in what maybe should be put to rest as an outmoded and unhealthy practice. You can see why this caused so much fury in South Africa, but you can also open that up to criticise the traditions of cultures across the planet which should be questioned and probably abolished. The gay element offered some shading to the narrative, but in truth there wasn't enough here to last the entire ninety minutes (or just under), and a repetition set in after about half an hour. Interesting, however, and it started a conversation worth having. Music by João Orecchia.