The word ‘Moffie’ is South African slang for ‘an effeminate or homosexual man,’ something the Army has no tolerance for. Going in knowing this and that the film centers around the military, you have some idea why the film was made.
Based on André Carl van der Merwe’s novel, it’s also important to announce that the fourth feature from South African director Oliver Hermanus, was ‘Made with the support of The Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa.’
When it starts, we find ourselves in 1981’s South Africa. The government of the white minority has begun military operations along the border with Soviet-backed Angola to stop the spread of communism. The minority govern the country through constituted racial segregation.
What was happening was called ‘Apartheid,’ defined as ‘any system or practice that separates people according to color, ethnicity or class.’ When young males reach the age of sixteen, barely old enough to make their own decisions let alone leave their families, they’re drafted and forced into military service. They must go and defend the Apartheid regime.
It becomes mandatory that they endure brutal, ruthless training sessions to prepare them for war. The very cold and heartless Sergeant Brand (think Sergeant Hartman from ‘Full Metal Jacket’ on steroids), played coldly by Hilton Pelser, makes sure that they can hold up through anything they might encounter. There will be no weak links in his chain! Though it is necessary to be harsh in some sense, I hardly think making ill cadets eat their own vomit is. It seems somewhat excessive, but one recruit or ‘scab’ as Brand likes to call them, Dylan Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), must partake of his own sick when heat and exhaustion get the best of him; dirt and all.
I digress. The film centers around the beautiful Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer). It’s never said, merely implied, but he is the Moffie the title refers to. He has kept this hidden from everyone except the audience, who’ll see it right away. Before he leaves for the service, Nicholas is given a nudie magazine by his father, something he has little interest in. Luckily, he’s able to use it as insurance later when beating Nicholas to a pulp looks like an excellent way to release some tension by one testosterone-filled youth. I’m filling you in on that as it’s essential to know. It’s after this scene that the story of who Nicholas is begins to be revealed. What he has endured in the past is nothing to what he’d face if being gay is exposed. Homosexuality is not allowed in the eyes of God or the Army. Those who find out end up in Ward 22, where they torture and drug you, doing whatever it takes to make you ‘normal’ again.
Nicholas gets close to Stassen, Brand’s favorite target. You want this relationship to happen for him, especially when it’s shown what the young Nicholas, who dared take a chance, went through, but at the same time, you want him safe. The atmosphere is toxic in the 1980s, and everyone is still hiding. Play it safe or don’t play at all? Which is better?
Kai Luke Brummer is perfectly cast and the score throughout is gorgeous, preparing in you feelings of apprehension and fear. The music is somber, with the bow of a cello slowly moving across its thickest strings to set a tone of trepidation and dread. The Army wants Nicholas to ‘Send the enemy to hell,’ yet it is he who is there, unable to tell anyone who he truly is and unable to have who he unequivocally loves.
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Writers: Oliver Hermanus & Jack Sidey
Stars: Kai Luke Brummer, Barbara-Marié Immelman, Michael Kirch, Ryan de Villiers, Remano De Beer, Emil van Niekerk
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 1h 44m
Genres: Drama, Romance, War
*Based on the book by: André Carl van der Merwe