Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France, 2017. Riva Filmproduktion, Das Kleine Fernsehspiel, ZDF/Arte, OAK Motion Pictures, Cool Take Pictures, Deuxieme Ligne Films, Sampek Productions, Edition Salzgeber, Figjam Entertainment, Urucu Media. Screenplay by Malusi Bengu, Thando Mgqolozana, John Trengove, based on the novel A Man Who Is Not A Man by Thando Mgzolozana. Cinematography by Paul Ozgur. Produced by Cait Pansegrouw, Elias Ribeiro. Music by Joao Orecchia. Production Design by Bobby Cardoso, Solly Sithole. Costume Design by Lehasa Molloyi. Film Editing by Matthew Swanepoel.
In modern day South Africa, ulwaluko is still readily practiced, a Xhosa ritual that involves village elders circumcising teenage boys as their passage to manhood. Among the group of initiates undergoing this controversial coming of age is Kwanda, a young man who appears to be there because his father hopes that the elders will make a man out of him; he, however, has no personal conflicts with his sexuality. His mentor Xolani, assigned to see him through the weeks of healing, instructs the boy on the importance and value of this ordeal while living his own secrets and lies: Xolani is in love with Vija, his childhood friend who is married with children and has fun with Xolani, Brokeback Mountain style, whenever he gets away from the city. Kwanda sees his mentor’s hypocrisy and calls him on it, pointing out that Vija is using Xolani for sex is never going to love him back, while the menor convinces himself that he has no conflicts about having to hide his feelings or expect nothing from the man upon whom he is fixated. A somewhat tiresome pace and lack of humour mar what is otherwise a fascinating and rare look into a culture that exists both in opposition and in accordance to modern-day prejudices, offering a frank depiction of rituals and sexual identities that have, not surprisingly, landed the film and its director John Trengrove in plenty of hot water at home. It’s not quite the male Moolaade it could be, the performances outweigh the direction, but it is worth seeing.