Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 4:27 pm 
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A striking if unbalanced directorial debut tackles powerful material

This movie has powerful material and a strong authentic feel to its setting of a Xhosa manhood ritual for adolescent boys taking place in a mountainous corner of the Eastern Cape of South Africa. However, director John Trengove goes astray in various ways. The theme of the two older "caregivers" who are secretly gay is not revealed gradually as it ought to be, but in our face early on, and the theme is hit over and over repetitiously. Meanwhile the Xhosa ritual is inadequately presented, when it ought to provide the strong solid underpinning for the story. However, Trengove is a promising director from South Africa with an MFA in filmmaking from NYU who already has ten years of experience in Theater and TV, and his shooting method in this feature debut is intense and engaging, if (perhaps willfully) chaotic.

The main characters are three: first the "rich" boy from the city of Johannesburg, Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini); the sensitive factory worker Xolani (musician Nakhane Touré); and the more macho, married Vija (Bongile Mantsai), whom Xolani seems to be in love with. The other initiate boys barely emerge as individuals, nor do the various elders and villagers. Kwanda's uncle sends him off to this event, thinking he's too soft. He may be, but he's also contemptuous of the whole thing.

And when Xolani is put in charge of Kwanda as his "caregiver," Kwanda soon guesses he is gay and senses his relationship to Vija and even warns him Vija will never really care about him. It's not clear how Kwanda knows all this. Perhaps his sexuality is similar and it's "gaydar"? However, the other young initiates' feelings toward Kwanda are differently motivated. They resent him for being a city boy and a rich boy.

The most interesting thing is that Kwanda isn't as macho perhaps as the other youths, yet is bold in setting himself apart from them. But his unwillingness to fully play along with the rituals is a risky move in this environment that will have dire consequences.

The Wound/Inxeba, 88 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2017. It was screened as part of the 2017 FSLC-MoMA New Directors/New Films series. To be a Kino Lorber release in the US. Releasing in France 19 Apr. 2017 as Les Initiés.

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