To Live And Love In Secret
This is a beautiful film. In story, in acting, cinematography, direcrion, location, setting, music and language. I'm willing to start this review by saying it's a must-see for all serious & casual filmgoers, and even people who don't watch films at all. It's THAT good.
I would also like to add, before this goes any further, that I've actively chosen to give no quarter to the political conversation around the film and to, rather, focus on it as a piece of artwork worthy of exploration within the architecture of its own artistry.
The first scene to fully wrest my attention and fully immerse me into the world this film was the first sex scene, mostly because of the way it was shot but also because it gave me a window into understanding what this film means or, at least, what I think it means.
In the scene, Xolani (Nakhane Touré) and Vija (Bongile Mantsai) are on the floor having sex, bathed in dim light and surrounded by darkness with the camera only letting us see them from across the corridor through the doorway to room whose floor upon which they lay together. Immediately, I told myself that this is a movie about secrets; about that which is shrouded in darkness and kept away from the light.
Xolani is a factory worker who moonlights once per year as a caregiver at a Xhosa Initiation School. Vija is also a caregiver at this same school and Xolani's lover as well. Once each year, they both go to this location to be together, stealing away precious moments for themselves when the children they're presiding over won't bother them, and when it is over, Xolani goes back to his life as a lonely factory worker and Vija returns to his wife and children. Their love is their secret.
The reason these two cannot be together openly is made obvious fairly early on during a conversation between Xolani and the father of the boy who is placed in his charge as caregiver. The father makes a point to request of Xolani that he be tough with his son because his son is "too soft", which is not-so-subtle code for somewhat effeminate, and "locks himself in his room with other boys", which is a not-so-subtle allusion to his homosexuality. When we meet the son, Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), he is everything his father promised.
Kwanda, a native of Johannesburg and not the Eastern Cape like the rest of his fellow initiates, exhibits a curious mixture of antipathy and indifference towards the obvious hatred and disgust he inspires in those with him at that camp with not only his homosexuality but also his coming from an affluent family. He does not just be himself and retain his identity through and through, he blatantly refuses kowtow to the prejudices and insults hurled his way in order to nurse the bigotry of his contemporaries. He is, in his own way, a tiny revolutionary. But it is precisely because he is not of that world, essentially a stranger in a strange land, that Kwanda can be as such. He is not a secret keeper. Not the kind that you need to be to survive in the world of this film.
That brings us to another major theme of this movie: Freedom. So far as I was able to glean from one viewing of this film, there are three somewhat subtly different expressions of freedom present in the three main characters, with one being specific to each of them:
1) Freedom in love (Xolani) — by expressing and remaining faithful to the love you know is true, one can free themselves or the shackles of their world and attain joy
2) Freedom in escape (Vija) — one can assert their freedom by, even if temporarily, escaping the bonds, duties and expectations of their world to indulge in the pleasures they most desire and
3) Freedom in Self (Kwanda) — the only real freedom is that of your own irrefutable truth. Anything that seeks to contravene that, seeks to imprison you.
Xolani is a prisoner of his love for Vija. Vija is a prisoner of his shame. The only thing that renders them possible is their secret. Only Kwanda is truly free.
Having thought of all the aforementioned, I realised, as you might be able to tell from the title of this review and analysis, that the wound after which the movie is named is the one of a love that can never be expressed or fulfilled in the way those who need it to be. An unhealing wound, into which secrecy is the salt rubbed into it to make it burn but also keeps it open.
Be sure to see this one.
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