Brutality defines the relationship between an Apartheid era South African military officer and his trainees. Moffie is just one of a few LGBT+ films, a subgenre that comes with brutality. But it’s refreshing to find a film that slaps its viewers with that tone. It also shows the annoying nature of brutality. Viewers see this as Sargeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) drills his new soldiers with one bootcamp session after another. He promises them coffee and soup and then deprive them of those provisions. He tires them and then punish them with useless tasks when they complain. Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brunner) is one of the trainees watching that punishment.
Nicholas’his fear is always present because he’s one of the few recruits discovering the beauty and affection of men. Director Oliver Hermanus depicts that brutality that has nothing to do with Nicholas. But that’s only because Brand chooses his targets randomly. Sometimes it’s Dylan Stassen (Ryan De Villers). At another time, it’s Baxter (Cody Mountain), who he humiliates in front of the scabs after committing a gay act. The film, then, depicts Nichola’s interiority, how he sneaks off by himself only to feel dissatisfaction when he’s alone.
The other scabs around Nicholas sniff around for any deviance and even joke about it. This is something he can’t do because they’ll send him off to Ward 22. That’s a place where the miliary confines gay recruits and ones with mental illness. ANd the military conflated those two things at a time when it was politically correct to do so. Gay or not, the scabs understand the grvaity of such an exile. At least that’s true for a fellow scab Michael Sachs (Matthew Vey). Hermanus doesn’t shy away from the Apartheid-era army’s cruelty, an atmosphere that he offsets with the occassional classical track. But the question now is where to go from here?
In adapting Andre Carl van der Merwe’s book of the same name, Hermanus spends the end of his second act with montages. He makes Nicholas meditate underwater, or observe as the other scabs play with their guns. The other scabs are comfortable with each other while Nicholas sits or lies back. During these scenes, Hermanus flashes back to Nicholas during puberty. He faces punishment after a man caught him staring too long at another man. This is like Malick with less poetry, which is an understandable approach but one that can sometimes feel lacking. Moffie has other issues, like what it explains and doesn’t explain about the political situation where the characters find themselves.
Moffie opens with a title card pointing to the Apartheid. It’s fair to say that Hermanus made the film for younger viewers. Those viewers are probably unaware of the partition between the white minority an the region’s Black majority during that time. It’s equally problematic that Black actors exist here only for the white scabs to throw things at or shoot at or pity. This adds to the frustration that some viewers find with war films that most filmmakers depict to only be a genre for white men. Although in fairness, Hermanus throws enough curveballs, especially in how Nicholas finds love and how long that lasts. And he reminds viewers that war turns some of the sensitive characters in his film into monsters, a transformation that Nicholas dreads.
Find out how to watch Moffie at https://www.ifcfilms.com/.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Drama, Romance, War
- Release Date: 4/9/2021
- Directed by: Oliver Hermanus
- Starring: Cody Mountain, Hilton Pelser, Kai Luke Brummer, Matthew Vey, Ryan de Villiers
- Produced by: Eric Abraham, Jack Sidey
- Written by: André Carl van der Merwe, Jack Sidey, Oliver Hermanus
- Studio: Department of Trade and Industry of South Africa, Portobello Productions