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06/02/2018 13:30 SAST | Updated 06/02/2018 13:30 SAST

FILM REVIEW: 'Inxeba' Opens Room For Necessary Conversation

Malusi Bengu and Thando Mgqolazana show great talent in what looks like their screenwriting debut.

Tibrina Hobson/ Getty Images/ Sundance Film Festival
(L-R) Actors Bongile Mantsai, Nakhane, and Niza Jay Ncoyini attend the 'Inxeba' premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

"Inxeba" is a film that tells the story of Xolani, apparently a factory worker who also doubles up as the caregiver at an initiation school – a practice within the Xhosa culture. I won't go into detail about what the practice entails, because the movie does not go into detail.

It does, however, focus on the world of Xolani – and what we soon learn is a romantic relationship with another caregiver within the confines of that world. That is the real reason for all the mayhem and threats of violence from disapproving homophobic folk.

Did I like the movie? I think it is fantastic. I had no idea who John Trengove was prior to this film. I've had to Google the man, but I really hope this is not the last time I see him or his name behind a project.

The style of the film does open room for the conversation of whether applying a Eurocentric format strips us of our individuality when promoting ourselves as South African. But regardless of aiming for universal appeal, it is still a story that explores Xhosa – the language and the culture; something that belongs solely to South Africa.

Malusi Bengu and Thando Mgqolazana show great talent in what looks like their screenwriting debut. I really hope this is not the last time we see their names on writing credits, regardless of whether they will stick to indigenous stories or whether they expand. I have never seen such beautiful attention to detail.

I envy their effortless ability – so professional, yet never too detached from reality, in the sense of being too much of a "production", and not a story that folk can link with their respective realities.

Bongile Mantsai and Niza Jay were my acting highlight. Kwanda (Niza's character) has quotables which I wish I could repeat – but I would have to watch the movie 10 times to perfect the dialect and tone. Bongile showed us a man who feels the need to be overtly masculine, to hide what he really feels.

Investing in this project was a very smart idea, because our country has some beautiful landscapes. I was losing my composure over how "Brokeback Mountain" has beautiful shots, but we have all that right here. Do the Saftas award cinematography? I already know who the winner should be.

Paul Hanna / Reuters
American tenor Tom Randle (Jack Twist) (L), and Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch (Ennis del Mar), perform during a dress rehearsal of the opera "Brokeback Mountain" at the Teatro Real in Madrid, January 24, 2014.

I mention "Brokeback Mountain" because of the hard-to-ignore parallels in the two stories

Xolani and Vija always go away on "retreats/camping trips", which double as opportunities to get together. One of them is married and refuses to accept what he really feels, opting to constantly live a lie – echoing both protagonists in Brokeback.

The similarities are not enough, however, for me not to love everything about the movie. It was a story I did not know I needed to see – as is the case with many of the films I hear of, watch and enjoy.

Watching it, I felt with the characters – tired of the dynamics of the love Xolani had for Vija, the sacrifices needed to protect him, knowing how people around would react if they knew, the dream of escaping it all with no long-term damage to them or their reputations, which becomes the catalyst for sacrifice.

Beyond whether or not I relate, the movie still managed to make me believe in what I was seeing. I was heartbroken at the end, but felt there was no other way for the story to end.

I think it's unfair that I got to watch this movie for free – I think I'll be going back to actually pay for it, because it deserves all the money we can afford to give to it.

I hope this is not the last time we receive a production as great as this one. I see there is already what looks like a very good attempt of our first Western on the way, which I am also excited about.

Let there be a conversation, if you have alternative thoughts to this review.