Mixed Media: Film
The Beast (107 minutes) directed and written by Michael Pearce
This, for the first 90 minutes, is a Jersey-set did-he-do-it thriller about a teenage girl whose family righteousness, snobbery and control take her passionately into the arms of a bad boy poacher. There are echoes of Lady Chatterley, with the complication that the police suspect him of a series of murders of teenage girls. Home-tutored Moll meets the slightly older Pascal when she’s abandoned her own 18th birthday party, angered that her self-centred elder sister has hijacked it, and he’s rescued her from a sexual assault after she’s spent the night dancing at a club. This is all socially and emotionally perceptive, well-plotted, absorbing, and has a stand-out central performance from Jessie Buckley. The obedient, dutiful chorister, thoughtful and increasingly independent and bold, moves in with Pascal, stands by him when he’s arrested, and lies for him.
It’s nicely set up and we want the best for them – for the bad boy to be shown to be good, to have been misunderstood and undervalued. For Moll’s intuition about Pascal to be right, for her family and the community to be wrong. It’s a clever, well-constructed and executed debut feature, though, finally, and disappointingly, descends into mind-games and becomes more about genre and spectacle, than reality.
The Wound (Inxeba) (88 minutes) directed and co-written by John Trengove
In the mountains, stripped to red-striped tribal blankets, their bodies painted a dull white, one by one the teenage boys part their legs for the elder to slice away their foreskins. It’s the Xhosa coming-of-age ritual, and no-one screams or cries – they now have to be men. Each has a mentor who has been through it, shares their small round hut during two weeks of starvation, and tends the wound with traditional herbs.
Xolani, a warehouse worker, is a mentor who returns every year. He’s reserved, gentle, sympathetic, and, though he can’t admit it publicly, gay. He’s there because he’s in love with Vija, a boyhood friend, who is married, also in the closet, and as distractingly macho and loud as Xolani is quiet. In Xolani’s care is Kwanda, a hipster sophisticate with a nose ring and designer trainers. His flash SUV-driving father says he is soft. He’s not. He’s gay. And he doesn’t take long to clock Xolani and Vija.
Trengove’s debut sets us up for a South African Brokeback Mountain. In a wild, but normal, socially sanctioned setting, the two men can, secretly, be themselves. But it’s a setting where the cultural model of what it means to be a man is passed on and is threatening for Vija and Xolani. Kwanda doesn’t realize quite how much.
This is an acute discomfiting feature about social constructs, masculinity, intolerance, keeping feelings hidden, and what that does to you.