April 7th, 2021
STARRING: KAI LUKE BRUMMER, MATTHEW VEY, RYAN DE VILLIERS
DIRECTED BY: OLIVER HERMANUS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
I had to look up what the word Moffie meant and it’s a derogatory word used in South Africa to describe a gay man. Like many derogatory words, it’s sharp, spiteful, harmful, and the kind of word learned from others. It’s that intense anger and ingrained sense of toxicity that spreads across Oliver Hermanus’ Moffie, making it a fascinating narrative on the detrimental trauma placed on men fighting for their country. The setting is 1981 apartheid South Africa and Nicolas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) has received his call to train and fight at the border of Angola. It’s a battle that he wants no part of and because of his sexuality he is even extra fearful, being thrusted into a culture that involves sergeants screaming obscenities, and lacking any care for the human inside the soldier. Moffie is another cinematic expression on how war is hell and about one man revealing true resilience in the face of internal and external adversity.
To set the stage for the kind of movie that Moffie is, it made me think it was a combination of Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, and a bit of Tony Scott’s Top Gun. Those three movies are rooted in three aspects of Moffie. The screenplay, co-written by Hermanus and Jack Sidey (based on the book by Andre Carl van der Merwe) captures the ruthless intensity of boot camp, where the minute Nicolas is getting off the train he is being screamed at and called every degrading name in the book. It’s the kind of intensity that does two things to a person, which traumatizes them and prepares them for the most brutal situations of war. That’s the Full Metal Jacket part and we see it down the line, where Nicolas’ military mates act out in violent bursts of aggression, fighting, ridicule, and in some cases taking their own lives. The comradery side and the sexual tension between Nicolas and fellow crewman Dylan (Ryan de Villiers) hits on the Top Gun side, where the majority of Moffie is dripping with male machismo, and it’s balanced off with Nicolas’ constant struggle to be his true self.
The other aspect, and one of the massive reasons why Moffie left an impression on me, was the masterful direction by Hermanus combined with gorgeous cinematography by Jamie Ramsay. The majority of Moffie is rich with texture in every frame, from the costumes and sets, but it’s Ramsay’s ability to capture the light in the background, while the men line up in preparation for their training, showing the beauty of the world, against the ugly business of war in the name of racism. It’s the cinematography, similar to Roger Deakins work in Jarhead and the similar themes to Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, about the choreography of men in the French Foreign Legion, that makes Moffie different from just an expression of the pointlessness of war. Moffie shows war internally and externally.
As far as the performances go, this is a show from Kai Luke Brummer, playing the character of Nicolas as incredibly conflicted. He has a constant look of timid innocents on his face and the internal struggle to mind his business in training, while the various surrounding male egos force him to be on guard with his emotions and sexual desires. It’s in the narrative portrayal of other judgmental people that makes Moffie such a tragic tale. We only see one flashback to Nicolas’ childhood, but it is a moment in time that would be traumatic to any person, but it’s especially harmful to a gay man during a time of such bigotry. It’s the revelations of constant unacceptance that makes Nicolas falling for Dylan a heartbreaking expression of love that can’t be open and free.
Moffie is a slice of South African history that is tragic, sad, and once again enlightening to audiences on the neverending pointlessness of war. The anger of men only feeds other kinds of anger, but Moffie is so much more than just about young men surviving the chaos. It’s about Nicolas hoping to find a way towards a happiness that those around him refuse to let him have. Moffie closes with an ending result to Nicolas’ search for love that will be open for interpretation, but the final result is a spectacular film, with gorgeous visuals, and a rich dissection of masculinity in a time of war. Moffie should be seeked out by all.
MOFFIE IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS APRIL 9TH AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND FROM IFC FILMS
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady