The Oliver Hermanus adaptation of André Carl van der Merwe’s novel, Moffie, premiered in Gauteng on 11 March. The film has performed exceptionally well on the international film circuit, winning the Mermaid Award (best LGBTQIA+-themed film) at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the best feature film title at the London Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Orizzonti Prize and the Queer Lion Award at the Venice International Film Festival. It has received positive reviews and currently boasts a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
The story follows Nicholas van der Swart (played by Kai Luke Brummer), a 19-year old South African, who is conscripted for mandatory military service during the apartheid regime in South Africa. Nicholas has been aware of his homosexuality for a long time but the society that he finds himself in is a harsh one that will not accept him as he is. He forms a connection with a fellow conscript and the story explores his constant struggle to try and hide his sexuality. The film focuses heavily on the South African Border War and the intolerant nature of military life during that era.
Hermanus told PDBY that one of the most challenging aspects of directing this film was to “try and ask a collection of people to care about a bunch of white guys in 2020” he added that “right now the plight of men, more specifically white men, is not really at the forefront of global discussion”. The film tackles some heavily debated topics and explores the emotional toll of war. It offers an important reminder that something as traumatic as war affects everyone, even those in a privileged position.
The film is important for an array of reasons. For one, it explores a narrative that is often brushed over or ignored entirely. Many white South Africans have heard tales from their fathers and grandfathers about the army but few have dug deeper into the aftermath of these tales, specifically the mental toll it took on many of these men. The narrative of a gay South African man in this context explores these tales from a very specific and even more heartbreaking angle. It is always a delicate endeavour when showcasing stories from the apartheid era. One does not want to detract from the experiences of those apartheid negatively impacted the most. The South African Border War claimed both black and white lives yet black lives were not honoured in the same way as white lives were during this time. It is important not to detract from their story. The film truly illuminates this. But sometimes one forgets that other minority groups were also deeply affected by the oppressive regime.
The film heavily showcased the brutality of military life during that era. It also, importantly and uncomfortably, emphasised the extreme racism. Although it showcased queer-specific issues I would have liked to see these explored in a bit more depth, as they are in the novel.
This film is definitely worth a watch. It is visually exquisite and proves that South African talent in the film industry is nothing to look down on. It is cinematically brilliant. Other than Kai Luke Brummer’s stellar performance, I was particularly impressed with Matthew Vey’s performance as Michael Sachs and Stefan Vermaak’s performance as Oscar Fourie. Brummer told PDBY that playing Nicholas has been “the most incredible experience in understanding [himself], [his] family, and the heritage that [he] comes from”.
Moffie was released in cinemas nationwide on 13 March. Be sure to follow their social media accounts to stay up to date on how you can watch the film amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
Be sure to check out PDBY’s exclusive interview with Stefan Vermaak from Issue 4.
FB: Moffie Film
DANI VAN DER HORST