Moffie: Film Review

Moffie

Moffie is a derogatory Afrikaans slang term for a gay and effeminate man which is bandied about a lot in Oliver Hermanus‘ brutal and unflinching film about forbidden desire.

Based on Andre Carl Van der Merwe’s autobiographical novel of the same name, Moffie follows Nicholas Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) as he is called up to complete two years of compulsory military service with the South African Defence Force in 1981. He must survive the brutality of the army and keep his true identity hidden, but this becomes more difficult when he develops an attraction to fellow recruit Stassen (Ryan de Villiers).

I really expected the focus of Moffie to be on the forbidden feelings between Van der Swart and Stassen, but the majority of the film is devoted to the months of brutal, dehumanising training the recruits have to endure before entering into active service and defending the apartheid regime on the Angolan border. These scenes are intense and unflinching and very uncomfortable to watch. I had to look away a couple of times and I couldn’t wait for the leaders to stop yelling and swearing and being so awful to these young impressionable men.

I would have liked less of these scenes and more about Van der Swart’s identity and hopes for romance. We see glimpses and hints about something with Stassen but not enough. If you came for a full-on LGBTQ love story you will be disappointed because it’s very restrained, only giving us delicate teases about their encounters, and the rest is about the brutal training.

Moffie contains some stunning cinematography and was interesting to me because it sheds light on a slice of history I didn’t know anything about, but I just couldn’t get invested in it. The bleak training scenes really put me off and the glimmers of romance didn’t do enough to compensate for that, plus the uncertain ending left me feeling sad and deflated.

I can appreciate that Moffie is a provocative, powerful and well-made film which tells an important story about toxic masculinity, repression, and homophobia in apartheid South Africa but I personally found it an unpleasant viewing experience.

Available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema now 

Rating: 3/5

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