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Moffie: soldiering on against homophobia

Story of 16-year-old sent to fight in South African army examines what it meant to be a ‘man’ in the apartheid era

23 April, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Kai Luke Brummer as Nicholas Van der Swart in Moffie

MOFFIE
Directed by Oliver Hermanus
Certificate: 15
☆☆☆

THE extraordinary, stark beauty of the Transvaal, and the vastness of the Southern Oceans are two environmental elements that feature regularly in South African political art and culture of the apartheid era.

They are too demanding of attention to be ignored, and play roles in so many books and films set in the country.

A writer or filmmaker asks why such a natural world could provide a platform for such human evils. Is it that our psyche is such we are unable to share our earthly wealth, whether it be the aesthetic of a glorious vista, or the vast riches of the minerals lying beneath the postcard landscapes?

South African writers such as Peter Abrahams and Johannes Meintjes question how such a glorious Eden could have been the setting for hell.

Moffie, a South African film about a 16-year-old being conscripted into the South African army and sent to the border with Angola, where there was of course a long-running war, poses this question subconsciously.

Its main thrust, however, is a consideration of South African concepts of what it meant to be a “man” – told through the eyes of two young gay men.

What a brutalising experience for a teenager. Ripped from his home and shoved into a violently racist Afrikaans militia army to serve his nation state, Nicholas Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) goes from a child’s bedroom into a barrack room environment where its senior figures are racist sadists and the squaddies are ordered to become the same.

Rather than be a story of a singular relationship, Moffie approaches love in a wider context. His experience of life as a gay man in a phobic environment, his active service, and a consideration of Afrikaans masculinity and patriarchy makes for a powerful political narrative.

Leads Brummer and Ryan de Villiers as Nicholas, another young gay man trying to work out what this world he is made to join means, are terrific, as is their straight friend Sachs (Matthew Vey). They all bring the required shades to their characters. However, brutal Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) is a scene-stealer each time.

Added to the solid production values, this is a tense and original drama.

Moffie streams from Friday on Curzon Home Cinema, www.curzonhomecinema.com

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