By George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
MOFFIE, set in 1981 South Africa during the apartheid regime, opens with 16-year-old Nicholas (Kai Luke Brummer) ready to leave his loving family to serve in the military for two years as mandated by the government for all white boys that age. It is a shocking reminder of how vile the Caucasian white minority government was at that time. At war with Angola for fear of being overrun by communists, it was also anti-black, anti-British and anti-gay. Nicholas, alongside a few other recruits, is ill-prepared for his new life. The brutality is relentless and under the command of Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser), the violence and verbal bile is numbing. Prepare to be forcefully kicked in the head if you’re not doing the push-ups well or quickly enough, then listen to horrific racist remarks as a follow through. Nicholas develops a friendship with Michael (Matthew Vey) as they share cigarettes, musical tastes and a mental detachment to the dehumanizing life in the military. It’s a deeply homoerotic relationship as they exchange tender touches but both know their lives would be at risk should any physical intimacy between them transpire. They had already experienced a fellow recruit commit suicide and another sent away to the dreaded Ward 22 clinic for being gay. This does not stop Nicholas from developing an even more intense feeling for Dylan (Ryan De Villiers). An hour into the Film, the young men are in the battlefield, experiencing their first taste of death.
Nominated this year for a BAFTA award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer Director Producer, Co-writer and Director Oliver Hermanus has created a masterful piece of work with a difficult subject matter. Relentless bigotry can be emotionally draining to hear and to watch the degrading and the desensitizing basic training camp scenes are startling but Hermanus impressively overcomes these hurdles with stunning Cinematography, a compelling Soundtrack and outstanding performances. Brummer brings a natural, stoicism to the role of Nicholas and succinctly portrays the inner turmoil he is going through in trying the deal with and accept his sexuality. Vey and De Villier’s performances are nuanced and effortless and Pelser will make you think that what Louis Gossett Jr did in his Oscar-winning performance in An Officer and a Gentleman – as gentle and nurturing.
Moffie is a derogatory slang word for gay and much like how Brokeback Mountain skewered the traditional western genre with its homoerotic storyline, MOFFIE is a uniquely crafted take on a War Movie. Whereas I had minor issues with how all the military young recruits look like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue photo shoot and its vague ending, MOFFIE is a welcomed addition to the cinematic landscape.
MOFFIE is available to rent on Apple TV April 9, 2021. It will be available this Summer on IFC Films Unlimited.