Young men and their elders together experiencing the rigors of the wilderness is a kind of rite all over the world. It can be a time of self-discovery and liberation. In “The Wound,” a group of South African teenagers and their adult caretakers gather in a camp near mountains to observe a Xhosa ritual. The young boys, called “novitiates,” are circumcised, and spend multiple weeks in the camp healing under the supervision of the adults, who themselves underwent the procedure years before.
In this austere and unsettling film, directed by John Trengove and inspired by a novel by Thando Mgqolozana (who worked on the screenplay with Malusi Bengu and Mr. Trengove), the camp, which is the movie’s only setting, becomes a kind of prison. The taciturn Xolani (Nakhane Touré) is charged with looking after a sullen boy named Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini). He’s also hooking up on the sly with Vija (Bongile Mantsai), another caretaker with a conventional family life back home. The campfire conversations of blustery teens and chest-puffing elders contrast with the shame and rage of the men conducting double lives. As it happens, Kwanda isn’t having it. He’s relatively comfortable with his sexuality and disgusted by Xolani, whom he sees as a hypocrite.
Mr. Trengove shoots the film in intimate wide-screen, getting in close to the performers as their characters tamp down explosive feelings, often letting the spectacular landscapes behind them break down into soft-focus abstractions. His direction is perfectly judged up to and including the shudder-inducing ending.
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