23 June 2018



'The boyhood is leaving. You know how it goes.'

'The mountain is all there is for me, and it's not enough.'

'Men follow their dicks around like it's the most important thing.'

'I mean, do we have to sit around here for two more weeks watching our dicks heal?'

'Your parents asked for my help. They trust me to see you to manhood.'

'Excuse me brother, but does your wife know the shit you get up to on the mountain?'

'You want me to be a man and stand up for myself, but you won't do it yourself. Aren't you tired of pretending to be something you're not? Don't worry, your secret's safe with me.'

Wow. This film is bloody brilliant, and yet it's a topic I would never even have dreamed could make a good storyline for a movie. You know in Africa in the old days when the young males of the village would have to go through a ferociously difficult coming-of-age ceremony in order to be initiated into manhood, and you couldn't wimp out of it because it would be considered horrifically shameful?

Well, here we are in South Africa in modern times, in the times of Instagram and iPhones and all the rest of it, and we have a bunch of young teenaged males who have all been sent to this rural mountain by their fathers to be initiated into manhood by the older males of their village.

The young lads don't seem particularly gung-ho about it, giving us the idea that they're being forced into the whole deal by their Dads. The Dads obviously want their sons to go through the same initiation processes that they themselves had to experience when they were that age, and they think that their sons can't be considered real men until they've done this.

What happens is that the man referred to as 'the surgeon,' but only because he has a bag full of knives and scissors and not by virtue of any medical training he's had, will go around the circle of young lads and cut their willies while the village elders look on approvingly.

I presume that this is the process known to us as circumcision but I'm not sure. It could be something different altogether. Anyway, the 'initiates,' as they are known, then have to stay on the mountain for two whole weeks while their willies heal. They are dressed in sheets and their bodies and faces are caked in white paint, giving them a rather scary appearance, like the 'savages' we might have seen in old movies.

Each initiate is assigned a 'caregiver,' who won't do much for the initiate beyond checking their titular 'wound' every day and seeing that their willies haven't gone septic and dropped off. There's a lot of ribald joking amongst the elders regarding this process of genital mutilation:

'Me, I've got FIVE dicks to look at. The way I'm going, I'll need a warm vagina soon.' Or: 'Initiates, hang onto your dicks, I'll be back soon.'

Kwanda is a young man from the city- Jo'burg- whose father has forced him to come here. The father is a rich man, richer than the other boys' fathers, and the other boys envy Kwanda's lifestyle of cars, swimming pools, Blackberrys and iPhones. 

They even steal his fancy trainers for a laugh because the initiates are not meant to wear shoes. It's meant to be all au naturel and back-to-basics out in the wilderness for them, lol. No snazzy Reeboks or Nikes for them.

Kwanda's caregiver is a young single factory worker called Xolani, who once went through the exact same process of initiation on the mountain himself. 'These herbs will sting like a motherfucker, but it helps the wound.'

Xolani doesn't say much and he carries around a loneliness and a pain with him that he's afraid to share with anyone else. Kwanda, a kindred spirit, is astonishingly quick at ferreting out this secret. Xolani is gay. All year round he lives a quiet, lonely existence, working away for the 'white man,' living for the once-a-year jaunt to the mountain when he can meet his lover, Vija.

Vija is a married man and manual labourer whose wife has just given birth to their third daughter. He's one of the older men who comes to the mountain every year for the initiation ceremony, dancing and singing and play-acting and drinking heavily with the other men, teasing the initiates and enjoying the break from the wife and kids and the daily grind.

Xolani and Vija are lovers. As gay sex is taboo and a cause of great shame amongst the men of the village, they have to keep their affair a secret. For Vija, we get the feeling that this is just sex to him, a pleasurable interlude with a younger man who even gives him money to supplement his meagre earnings. What a lousy user Vija is. He makes a pretence of not wanting to take the money but he still takes it.

Poor Xolani is head-over-heels in love with the selfish Vija, and he positively lives for their annual encounter. We, the viewers, know that Vija will never leave his wife and kids for Xolani and live openly with the younger guy as a gay man. Never in a million years. Poor, poor Xolani is on a big fat hiding to nothing and everyone knows it but him.

Kwanda, a young man wise beyond his years, is gay also and urges Xolani to leave the mountain and Vija behind forever. Live as a free man, he tells the tormented Xolani. Live your life as the person you are. Stop trying to be something- and someone- you're not.

But Xolani has spent a lifetime clearly squashing down his own natural instincts and, besides, he loves Vija and can't imagine a life without their yearly encounters. Meanwhile, the initiates' wounds are healing and they're nearly ready to go back to their village. They proudly compare war wounds: 'You see, he gave me a Mercedes-Benz cut. All the girls will want some of this...!' Well, you hope, boyo, lol.

As the story wends its way to its tragic ending, we witness the ceremonial burning of the initiation huts- they'll clearly just build some more next year!- and the warning of the young fellas by the older ones to stay away from white people:

'Young boys, you have crossed the first of many rivers to cross of manhood. (Only the first? How many more ARE there?) Beware the temptations of the white devil that attacks the womb of the black woman.' Well...!

The scenery is beautiful, although there are obvious signs of technological progress and industrialisation all around the area in the electricity pylons and water towers, etc. The film is a portrayal almost of the struggle between the old ways and the newer, more materialistic ones, and poor Xolani, who's desperately trying to keep a lid on his sexuality, is caught right in the crossfire.

Will he make the triumphant return to the village with the rest of the initiates and caregivers, Vija included, or will he flee the mountain forever and embrace his own sexuality far away from the censoring eyes of the village elders? Will what happens on the mountain stay on the mountain? It's all to play for, folks. It's all to play for...



Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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