The Wound: Compelling, controversial and queer

By Djia Mambu, Domoina Ratsara, Nthabiseng Mosieane and Wilfred Okiche

In THE WOUND, Nakhane Touré (front) plays a caregiver in love with another caregiver, provoking the wrath of a gay initiate.

The film that really got the Talent Press team talking this year was the powerful Xhosa initiation story INXEBA (THE WOUND), which unpacks masculinity, tradition and queerness. Here’s what we thought after watching it together.

A brave and graceful slice of life
4/5 stars
South Africa’s INXEBA takes a stark, unflinching look at black African masculinity by taking a taboo subject in our societies – same-sex love – and situating it in an even more hushed setting, Xhosa initiation from boyhood to manhood. It could all go very wrong, but INXEBA is very tastefully done, respectful towards the culture it depicts but revealing enough to draw viewers into a previously forbidden world with the utmost sensitivity. Finely acted and brilliantly directed by John Trengove with easy, natural dialogue, INXEBA builds its world with rough and intimate camera angles, lovely nature shots and seemingly effortless scenes. Until the over the top ending, there was barely a false note in the film and a particular breathtaking scene involving the two leads and a waterfall deserves a spot on the Most Beautiful Love Scenes Ever Put To Film list. INXEBA is likely to draw comparisons with the 2005 Hollywood film BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, but such comparisons, while easy to make, would be doing Trengove’s film a grave disservice. The power, grace and singularity of the story, coupled with the skilled execution, demands that INXEBA be approached on its own merits. And its merits are numerous. To see it is to feel a slice of real life.
– Wilfred Okiche (Nigeria)

Unneccessary melodrama
2.5/5 stars
A well told love story between three men, even just the trailer for INXEBA shook the senses and set social media ablaze for daring to expose the history and secrecy of a traditional rite of passage. With a successful international run and festival awards, the African premiere finally happened at DIFF. With its tackling of culturally sensitive material and its focus on levels of masculinity I am uncertain that the film will be well received by the mass South African audience - they may feel their culture is being slightly trampled on. I know I did. With its melodramatic ending, which made the whole thing slightly comical, this is a miss for me.
- Nthabiseng Mosieane (South Africa)

Wins the audience over
4/5 stars
The intersection between (often toxic) masculinity and tradition is a theme in the air at DIFF this year. (Hope, a feature film by Themba Ntuli tackles many of the same issues as INXEBA through the story of a young student who gets involved in a gay relationship once he arrives at university.) With INXEBA John Trengove shows a mastery of his subject even though he is exploring a culture that is not his. Some feel he has no right to do so, but challenging tradition is always going to lead to controversy. What he and his cast achieve is remarkable. Instead of provoking disgust, he succeeds, through his intimate film, in drawing the viewer in and engaging with them. At first one is left uneasy by the tough traditional circumcision scenes. But by the end? I felt empathy, understanding and compassion.
– Domoina Ratsara (Madagascar)

Cinema is controversy
4.5/5 stars
Is anybody allowed to show the secrets of a culture that is not their own? The director of the terrific INXEBA may face some backlash for doing so. Some will say it’s a film, it’s art, so the artist should be able to work on anything they want to. Others will say it’s cultural appropriation and disrespectful. But no-one will leave the cinema feeling the same way as they went in. For me, great cinema is always controversial.
- Djia Mambu (DR Congo)