Xolani is an isolated factory worker. He takes a break from work to go into the mountains to mentor a city boy for his initiation. Initiation is the act of circumcision thereby welcoming the boys to manhood. This young boy is Kwanda, and Xolani is chosen as a caregiver for him because he has the temperament to deal with “city initiates”, known to be “softer” than their country counterparts. Kwanda is a rebel, who questions age old customs and the gathering of men. The initiation is also an opportunity for Xolani to meet up with his long time friend Vija, who is married. the two men have been hooking up for years and this is their little secret that no one knows of. Clearly Xolani is in love with Vija and wants a life with him, which cannot happen since latter is married with kids, but Xolani has learned to keep his identity and feelings in check for the sake of love. But Kwanda who is gay and can soon figure out about Xolani soon suspects that there is something going on between them. When he accidentally sees the two men together, Vija is scared and decides to take the matter in his own hands. Xolani saves Kwanda and sneaks him out of the mountains, thereby giving audiences a ray of hope for the kid and himself, unless a tragic end for Kwanda tells us that whatever happens, Xolani will always always put safety and love of Vija in front of everything else in his life.
This film is not just about forbidden love, but also about masculinity and how it’s forced to conform to strict norms of acceptable behavior and expression through traditions and social pressures. The social stigma of being black and of a tribe with traditions and history, how could one dare to do something that they really wanna do. Its interesting when Kwanda says that this is South Africa, not Uganda, not Zimbabwe; they do have the freedom of being who they are and to do what they want to do; so why stuck in traditions? This is just one of the many questions that comes to our minds as a viewer. Various ideas around tradition, tribe, loyalty, sexuality and homosexuality, and the evolution thereof around masculinity. The film unfolds in a very gentle way, slowly building up tension and relationships between the protagonists. Xolani is in the middle of everything, with his love for Vija and wanting to do anything for him vs his initiate Kwanda. But nowhere does the film stop being sensitive and true. It doesn’t take sides ever. The performances by all the actors is superb and remarkable and while I write this review, it just stuck me that there are absolutely no female characters in the film. Vija’s character was also interesting as the man who clearly has feelings for Xolani but has been silenced by the society. Xolani was absolutely amazing and so was Kwanda. The ritual of initiation is only used as a backdrop to discuss an important debate.
If you have ever questioned the role of culture and traditions in our lives, this film is a must watch for you. Even if you haven’t, it is still highly recommended. Merging the act of initiation of men, with a gay storyline, and keeping the sensitivity intact and the respect of every member, this film needs to be applauded just for the fact that it was made. (8/10)