The highly anticipated South African gay-themed drama The Wound recently had its première at the Sundance Film Festival. So what did critics have to say about the film and its star?
Directed by John Trengove, The Wound tells the story of Xolani, a lonely closeted Xhosa factory worker who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood.
When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his secret, Xolani’s existence begins to unravel. The film looks at culture, masculinity and homophobia in contemporary South Africa.
Most controversial, even before it’s been widely seen, is the film’s depiction of initiation ceremonies, which are traditionally not exposed to the outside world. There’s already been some criticism on social media of the film’s “exploitation” of tradition and culture.
Last weekend, the film was screened for the first time at the prestigious American film festival and the reviews – generally positive – have started rolling in.
Variety’s Guy Lodge said that The Wound was “universally identifiable but rooted in fascinating indigenous tradition,” and is “sensitive to the hard taboo that homosexuality remains in black South African culture…”
He also wrote that “The Wound’s sexually frank depiction… marks it as something of a milestone in the country’s cinema.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Sheri Linden praised openly gay singer and author Nakhane Touré in the lead role of Xolani, describing his performance as “expressive” and “an impressive screen debut”. She said that the film is “intense and provocative”.
Nicholas Bell for Ioncinema.com also singled out the star, writing: “For his acting debut, Toure is quite transfixing as Xolani, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, devoting himself to a cycle of stagnation for the possibility of one day being united with the man he loves.”
He noted that in addition to its focus on the physical and psychological ‘wounds’ of the characters, this film “also depicts how gay men, like women, have been conditioned to tear each other down in order to stay in favour amongst the masculine majority, which is exactly how and why tradition continues.”
Nick Allen (Rogerebert.com) summed up The Wound as “a rumination on the unnatural nature of repression, including both masculinity or sexual preference”. He too praised the “solid performances” by the three leads, but felt that “the narrative puts their clear-cut dynamics on an expected dramatic course.”
“The Wound suffers from a story that is best when observing, but lacks revelations within its own fiction,” Ebert added.
The Wound will be screened at the Berlin Film Festival next month. It will have its South African première at the Durban International Film Festival in June.