DRAMA; 1hr 28min (Xhosa and Afrikaans with subtitles)
STARRING: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini
Solitary man: Touré
Xolani (Touré), a South African factory hand of palpable aloneness, leaves the city, as he does each year, bound for the mountainous isolation of the Eastern Cape and an all-male circumcision ceremony. Xolani is a “caregiver” to one of the “initiates,” teenage Xhosa boys whose coming-of-age ritual involves a preliminary spreading and snipping (thankfully not shared in intimate detail). After two weeks of top-secret men’s business, the boys will, in theory, emerge from the ritual as fully formed adults.
When not ministering to the recovering teens, the caregivers drink, shoot the breeze and generally get physical. Their roughhouse posturing is observed with cool aplomb by first-time feature director and co-writer John Trengove, his sangfroid echoed by that of the melancholy Xolani himself. While not unsympathetic to the rebellious boy in his care (Ncoyini), Xolani is as outwardly resigned to the dictates of tradition as he is to his isolating homosexuality and a hopeless passion for a married childhood friend (Mantsai, whose tossed-off machismo is a glaring red flag).
Trengove holds steady through the tightly framed, pressure-cooked power struggles and the disastrous unmasking of Xolani’s sexuality, allowing heat to build with the unstudied naturalism of a seat-of-pants documentary. It’s only when you see where a desperate Xolani is headed that you fully understand the artistry it took to take him there.