The critically acclaimed film explores the meaning of masculinity in the space of culture.
Inxeba (The Wound) tells the story of a quiet lonely factory worker Xolani, who travels to the rural Eastern Cape to assist in a Xhosa initiation practice, ulwaluko. However, when a defiant urban umkhwetha (initiate) Kwanda discovers his deep secret, a forbidden love with fellow care-giver Vija – Xolani’s existence and identity begins to come apart at the seams.
The film explores themes of divided loyalty, sexuality, tradition and the evolution thereof, love, family and opposing traditional ideas around masculinity. The male initiation ritual is inextricable to the storyline, giving the audience a glimpse into a seldom-seen world.
The supposedly adult men (amakhankatha – the caregivers) are shown to be grappling most fearfully with their meaning of masculinity, as personal and sexual insecurities come aggressively to the surface.
The initiation rites are presented tastefully. Ulwaluko is the setting for the story to play itself out, but its secrets and rituals are not at the centre of attention of the film. There’s a scene where Xolani is dressing Kwanda’s circumcision wound.
The audience only see close-up shots of their faces and left to imagine what happens below. inxeba is visually magnificent and has vividly provocative cinematography. Although I did not always enjoy the close up shots, the director’s stylistic choice worked well in capturing the character’s emotions, and transporting the audience into their reality.
The script beautifully identifies the tensions between the initiates being traditionally prepared to take on the socially accepted responsibilities of adult men (namely commanding respect, acquiring material things and starting a family with a woman) and one’s sense of self not conforming to this view of becoming a man. An example is when Kwanda challenges Xolani saying, “You want me to stand up and be a man, but you can’t do it yourself!” Kwanda questions the significance and meaning of the rites of passage to manhood by confronting Xolani and Vija, who have been through ulwaluko and cannot face their own truth.
The film manages to sensitively portray a cultural practice that has long faced public scrutiny. One is left to wonder whether Kwanda’s comfort with his identity and sexuality makes the traditions and sometimes controversial connections with developing hyper-masculinity unsustainable?
On social media there were many comments about the film bastardising the Xhosa culture in an effort to make money.
However, the outrage is a demonstration that it is time that we frankly and openly normalised so called uncomfortable or taboo topics and issues.
Such conversations around cultural rites of passage, and the othering of certain bodies by such practices are important now more than ever. They need to be discussed in ways that promotes understanding and tolerance.
It is a really good and thought provoking film that I think everyone should see at least once.
Cast: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini, Thobani Mseleni
Vuvu Rating: 8/10