Moffie (4 stars)

Moffie

Intense and insightful drama that follows a young gay soldier in apartheid-era South Africa

There is an intensity to Moffie that feels like a stone weight pressing on your chest. In the South Africa of 1981, white teenager Nicholas (an excellent Kai Luke Brummer) dare not risk anything that might betray his true self. Marching off to undertake mandatory army conscription, he is plunged into a world of aggressive masculinity and brutal racism.

The young men are cannon fodder, required to defend their country against the 'communist' threat from neighbouring Angola and the 'savages' on their doorstep. The training is physically and mentally punishing, as Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) vows to transform 'scabs' into battle-fit soldiers, unquestioning in their loyalty. There are echoes of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, but the more lyrical scenes of male camaraderie suggest Claire Denis's Beau Travail.

Nicholas is gay and this life of rowdy barracks-based intimacy, sweaty bodies and repressed desire is torture. Homophobia is a given – the term of abuse 'moffie' is banded about, as a way of marking weakness or effeminacy. The punishment is unforgiving. Nicholas does find a kindred spirit in anti-establishment fellow recruit Sachs (Matthew Vey) and feelings of attraction to Stassen (Ryan de Villiers) that could be mutual. Acting on these feelings would result in a spell of 'treatment' on the notorious Ward 22.

Director Oliver Hermanus brings subtlety and understanding to events, whilst making great use of a spare, discordant score by Braam du Toit. Moffie does focus on a privileged white male character, with flashbacks to a country club childhood incident further illustrating that privilege, and the toxic masculinity that has shaped Nicholas's life. It also never shies away from the violent hatred of the apartheid regime, but asks us to consider the way it brutalised and oppressed a whole spectrum of those who survived it.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 24 Apr.

Moffie

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • 1h 44min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Oliver Hermanus
  • Cast: Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey

Set in South Africa under apartheid, Nicholas has to face being different in an environment that does not tolerate it.

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