Oscar spotlight: South Africa’s ‘The Wound’ is a decidedly different coming-of-age foreign language entry

In movies, coming of age often means a teenager is shown having sex for the first time and blooming into adulthood. However, in “The Wound,” South Africa’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film race for the 2018 Oscars, coming of age means something very different indeed.

Working from a script by Thando Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu and John Trengove (who also directed), the film offers a very different take in becoming a man, at least among members of South Africa’s Xhosa tribe. Every year, a group of teenage boys is taken into the mountains and, after removing their clothes, the boys spread their legs to have their foreskins surgically removed. For the three weeks it takes for the wound to heal, each boy is taken to a hut where, under the guidance of a caregiver, they must survive while being deprived of food and water.

SEE 2018 Oscars: Record 92 foreign-language film entries from A (Afghanistan) to V (Vietnam)

A record total of 92 countries submitted a film for consideration this year, narrowing down to a short list of nine titles by the special committee announcing in December. Of those nine, five will be named as nominees when the full set of Oscar nominations are revealed on January 23, 2018.

“The Wound” focuses on a factory worker named Xolani (Nakhane Touré), who is asked by a family friend to be caretaker for his son Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), whom is worried about becoming “soft,” as he is about to undergo the ritual. Once on the mountain, Xolani realizes the worries of Kwanda’s father were well founded, as, thanks to his expensive running shoes, Kwanda is pegged as a “rich kid” and is bullied by the other boys, as well as being dismissed by the other caretakers. Xolani sees that he has his work cut out for him.

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Xolani, however, is distracted by the presence of fellow caregiver and alpha male Vija (Bongile Mantsai), whom he has known since childhood and with whom he has had an annual sexual relationship. The evolving relationship among these three men take “The Wound” into some very expected places, which may surprise Academy voters.

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