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Monday, March 16, 2020


Oliver Hermanus has made a powerful film about the traumatic experiences of a gay white conscript during the South African border war in the early 1980s. (Review by Patrick Compton 8/10)

It is tempting to compare Moffie to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Both films take an unsparing look at the process by which the army breaks down independent-minded civilians before building them up again as fighting men blindly dedicated to the destruction of their enemies.

The structure of the films is also similar. The first part of both movies (more so in Moffie than in FMJ) focuses on basic training and how a brutally powerful sergeant ruthlessly browbeats his virgin soldiers. The final segment of each film (more so in FMJ than in Moffie), then transfers the soldiers to the battlefield.

Whether it be “gooks” or communists during the Vietnam War, or “swart gevaar” during the apartheid era, armies tend to operate in similar ways when they train their soldiers.

That said, director Oliver Hermanus, who has adapted his script from the fictionalised memoir by André-Carl van der Merwe, has stirred in a new ingredient, namely the sexuality of his protagonist, Nicholas van der Swart (well-played by Kai Luke Brummer) who is gay.

There is a humiliating scene on the parade ground when sergeant Brand (a brutally realistic performance by Hilton Pelser) denounces two gay squaddies, who were observed embracing in the toilet. Being gay was regarded then, and is often regarded now, as being a crime against nature and God and the two men are duly humiliated.

Much of the tension in the film refers to Nick trying to stay “invisible” to the authorities, particularly as he has become attracted to a fellow soldier, Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), who he shares a trench with during an exercise.

The film represents a tense experience for both the protagonists and the audience as the soldiers are roughly pushed forward to their moment of truth on the front line.

One of the most powerfully disturbing sequences involves a flashback as we watch a pre-teen Nick swimming at a white country club with his parents. Caught loitering outside the showers by an enraged father of another child, it’s only too easy to appreciate why Nick has become so afraid of being exposed.

This leads, eventually, to an open-ended coda to the film after he has left the army and – according to conventional thinking – been “blooded” on the border. In many ways this ending is even more depressing than the events he witnesses and experiences during his time in the army.

Moffie is a wonderfully well-directed film – Hermanus knows just where to place his camera, and some of his close-ups are agonising in their emotional intensity. His vision is given superb support from cinematographer Jamie Ramsay and there is also a strikingly original score from Braam du Toit that complements classical extracts from the likes of Bach and Vivaldi. There is also a well-advertised version of Rodriguez’s Sugar Man, whose music was part of the counterculture at the time, as the credits come up.

Moffie (in Afrikaans and English with English subtitles) is showing at the Gateway, Galleria and Midlands Malls and The Pavilion. – Patrick Compton