The Balance of Power

in 29th Palm Springs International Film Festival

by Marco Lombardi

In a world defined by increasing globalization, it is more and more difficult to distinguish between the point of view of the so-called civilization and that of rural societies: modern culture and tradition often go hand in hand, blending into each other. We usually think that modern culture plays a stronger role, but the balance of power is often ambiguous: this is one of the main themes tackled by “The Wound”, a powerful film produced thanks to the contribution of the TorinoFilmLab, later presented at Sundance Film Festival 2017 and recently included in Best Foreign Language Film shortlist at the 2018 Oscars.

A group of Xhosa teenagers gathers on a mountain, in a rural region of South Africa, to attend Uukwaluka, a traditional circumcision ritual that will mark their transition from adolescence to adulthood. Kwanda is the only boy to come from a well-to-do family in Johannesburg, this is why he is teased and marginalized by his fellow initiates. Luckily, he finds comfort and support in his tutor, Xolani, soon noticing the strong attraction between him and another tutor, the surly Vija. Xolani is part of the “civilized world”, working as a storekeeper in a city factory, but he is afraid of showing his homosexuality to the rural community, even though the relationship with Vija is based on feelings more than sex. Kwanda, despite being a teenager, plays the role of the progressive city-raised adult trying to shake Xolani’s conscience by urging him to  stop hiding himself, nevertheless his behavior is ambiguous. The period of initiation is now over: Xolani seems to be determined to reveal his true identity, but as he is accompanying the boy to take the bus that will bring him home, he throws Kwanda off a high cliff.

Universality is one of the biggest strengths of “The Wound”: although the film  portrays a restricted geographical and cultural context, it actually narrates all the social struggles between the “old” and the “new”, that is between traditions – sometimes rich in wisdom, sometimes outmoded – and modernity, divided between a greater freedom of thought and (sometimes) the absence of values. Such a fascinating as disturbing ambiguity is masterfully represented by the attitude of Kwanda, who determines the essential balance among such contrasts. He may be the apparent bearer of an “order”, since we do not understand if he is acting as an adult (just to be respected and get out of his tunnel of marginalization), or if he is the true bearer of a contemporary openness coming from his urban and bourgeois world. He may also be simply attracted by Xolani, and ambiguity is the (adolescent) way to express his anger at a relationship that cannot be. It is precisely the difficulty of managing all these different attitude towards relationships that makes Nakhane Touré’s interpretation in the role of Xolani really outstanding. “The Wound”, in fact, can be considered as an “actor’s film” capable of undermining the classic identification process in the direction of a happy end also thanks to the presence of a very accurate screenplay with an unexpected final twist worthy of a real noir, and a chromatically clean photography whose wild landscapes act as symbolic and ancestral labyrinths of nature in which the characters end up totally lost,

In fact, even though the story leads us to hope (and even to believe) that Xolani will eventually reveal his closeted homosexuality, fighting for his own good and perhaps for that of his own community, “The Wound” – as its wounded protagonist – does not offer an easy, accommodating and perhaps hypocritical solution. It opts instead to punch the audience, as Kwanda verbally does with Xolani: someone will remove this provocation as the protagonist does, someone else will treasure that angry (and healthy) need for truth in his personal relationships, without throwing it off the high cliff of his own life.

Text edited by Amber Wilkinson