sun 20/09/2020

Moffie review - heart rates will rise with Oliver Hermanus’ powerful war film | reviews, news & interviews

Moffie review - heart rates will rise with Oliver Hermanus’ powerful war film

Moffie review - heart rates will rise with Oliver Hermanus’ powerful war film

A visceral LGBTQ period piece set against the backdrop of the South African Border War

Alone, at war: Nicholas (Kai Luke Brummer)

Oliver Hermanus’ potent fourth feature Moffie certainly has a controversial film title. A homophobic slur, it can be translated from Afrikaans as "faggot".

Oliver Hermanus’ potent fourth feature Moffie certainly has a controversial film title. A homophobic slur, it can be translated from Afrikaans as "faggot". If you were to see buses with film posters emblazoned with the title in translation, there might rightly be cries of outrage.

But the charged choice of title is not unwarranted. The word rings throughout the script, but without the viewer becoming desensitised to its poisonous quality. It lashes like a whip every time. 

The power of Hermanus’ film comes through a drama that is charged with fear and hatred. Rendered as a tense rites-of-passage tale, it expertly explores the most virulent forms of toxic masculinity. 

Opening in 1981, at the height of Apartheid, we learn that every white South African over 16 is to be conscripted to fight in the war in the north against the Soviet-backed Angolans. One such teen is Nicholas Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer), a blonde, blue-eyed teen, whose stepfather packs him off to war with a few words of advice about how to survive, along with a top-shelf glossy mag.Kai Luke Brummer and Ryan de Villiers in MoffieWithin moments of arriving at the dust-bowl training camp, we witness the horrors that Nicholas will endure. Alongside the drudgery of sit-ups and stripping machine guns, homophobic slurs are spat angrily by fellow recruits, desperate to affirm their heterosexuality. The officers are no better - in fact they’re worse. Homosexuality is as much an existential threat to them as communism. 

Nicholas keeps his head down, although his eye is drawn to the charming Staffen (Ryan de Villiers: pictured above, with Kai Luke Brummer). Then, a couple of recruits are discovered together in a toilet cubicle. The reaction is extreme, and their punishment severe. When they vanish from the camp, rumours circulate that, before being sent to the dreaded "Ward 22", the malevolent drill sergeant beat them with pillowcases filled with gun parts.

Hermanus based the film on the memoir by Andre-Carl van der Merwe, who served in the conflict. The account has been streamlined, and the focus is psychological rather than physical, poetically capturing the mental anguish felt by Nicholas. All the while, Hermanus tactfully draws parallels between the sexual and racial persecution present in the story, exposing the pernicious and horrifying atmosphere of the period.

Will Nicholas survive this trial by ordeal? As he’s punished both physically and mentally, we begin to wonder. His training concludes and the frontline awaits. In a chilling moment his superiors instruct him to write a last will and testament, and we fear the worst. 

Moffie is a tough but rewarding watch that will quicken your pulse and break your heart, showing wars are fought in more places than just the battlefield. 

Rendered as a tense rites-of-passage tale, it expertly explores the most virulent forms of toxic masculinity

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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