BFI LFF 2019: Moffie (2019)

Oliver Hermanus evokes fear and loathing for a brutally homophobic, Apartheid-era South Africa among young conscripts in Moffie.

Volledige Metaalbaadjie

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

“Hidden passions add to the brutish hell of apartheid-era South African conscripts in Oliver Hermanus’s skilfully tense drama.” – Guardian

Moffie examines prejudice from the stunned, stifled perspective of an English-descended soldier learning to adapt or die in his Afrikaner-ruled barracks.” – Variety

“‘I’m planning my escape,’ Nick (Kai Luke Brummer) jokes to his mother in the opening moments of Oliver Hermanus’s evocative Moffie. This sensitive 18-year-old is to leave home on military service the following day, and he’d be wise to follow through on his exit plan, because this is South Africa in 1981, and he’s about to enter the scorched hell of a sadistic year-long army training designed to mould young men into soldiers ready to fight communism and the ‘black danger’ heading to the border from Angola…

“The chaos of this boot camp – which recalls the brutality of Full Metal Jacket crossed with the eroticism of Beau Travail – is punctuated by a sun-dappled flashback to a formative moment in young Nick’s sexual awakening.

“Moffie unsettles from its opening seconds thanks to the heart-attack-inducing score from Braam du Toit, with atonal strings that seem to emanate from Nick’s anxious head. Jamie Ramsay’s richly textured, sun-bleached cinematography matches the musical intensity, favouring hand-held close-ups so intimate you can see the actors pores sweat. Classical tracks by Bach and Vivaldi at their most baroque add to the film’s feverish atmosphere.” – BFI

Oliver Hermanus‘s Moffie, co-written with Jack Sidey, and based on the autobiographical novel by André Carl van der Merwe, is gut-wrenchingly tense when it’s not tugging at the heartstrings. Nick (English, but has been made to take his Afrikaaner step-father’s surname) learns to be invisible in order to survive in the brutal boot-camp atmosphere generated by their bullying homophobic sergeant (Stefan Vermaak), who uses ‘moffie’ – translated here as ‘faggot’ – as a chant of abuse. Nick becomes friends with Sachs (Matthew Vey), a critic of the system, but signs of the budding shoots of a relationship with Stassen (Ryan de Villiers) make them both unsafe and have to be hidden or denied: but Stassen is braver than Nick and pays the army’s price.

Moffie is powerful, touching and inconclusive. It makes you angry at the Apartheid system and its casual cruelty and hatred, a meaningless war, and at the misuse, warping and waste of young lives and their sexuality in the service of both.

Moffie screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 10 and 11 October 2019.

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