Be aware: The author of this overview watched Moffie on a digital screener from dwelling. Earlier than making the choice to see it—or some other movie—in a movie show, please take into account the well being dangers concerned. Right here’s an interview on the matter with scientific specialists.
Oliver Hermanus’ Moffie opens with an uneasy send-off dinner, adopted quickly after by a veritable descent into hell. The setting is South Africa in 1981, and 18-year-old Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer), like all different white boys over 16, is being conscripted for army service and a tour on the Angolan border, ostensibly to fend off communist terrorists. After a snaking practice passage shot via with mounting terror, he quickly finds himself within the darkness of a boot camp, beneath the thumb of Sergeant Model (Hilton Pelser), an all-too-believable sadist who takes perverse pleasure in whipping the conscripts into form. Past the same old horrors and humiliations of primary coaching, Nicholas additionally has to cope with the truth that, regardless of his final title (inherited from his stepfather), he’s English amongst predominantly Afrikaans friends, and subsequently has to fend off their taunts in addition to Model’s. Add to all this his hinted-at homosexuality, and Moffie stirs up, inside its first half hour, a potent cocktail of violence and repression.
The title of Hermanus’ movie, the Afrikaans phrase “moffie,” is an anti-gay slur that the subtitles translate as “faggot.” Alongside “commies” and “terrorists,” it’s a phrase drilled into the boys as a mark of the enemy, and slung much more regularly than both. Early on, two conscripts are humiliated in full view of the camp for having been caught collectively, and although we don’t see what occurs to them, we be taught that they’re despatched to Ward 22, the army’s equal of an insane asylum. The risks of same-sex want being unaccountably excessive, Nicholas stays in line and will get by as finest he can. However after an evening of non-sexual intimacy with Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), a fellow squad member, the potential of one thing extra glimmers.
The movie’s violent, rabidly homophobic boot camp setting it not precisely unfamiliar, and can little question call to mind Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metallic Jacket. However the explicit setting, a uniquely charged microcosm of South Africa’s white minority, makes a distinction. Tailored from an autobiographical novel by André Carl van der Merwe, Moffie devotes most of its runtime to drawing out the main points of Nicholas’ expertise, and thus trains its eye on the English-Afrikaans battle that he feels most insistently. This isn’t to say that Hermanus completely omits South Africa’s apartheid context—solely that the movie intentionally however pretty successfully narrows its focus, relegating express white-on-Black violence to a couple key scenes. For Nicholas and most of his friends, ideology and even private morality matter little subsequent to survival.
Seemingly due to its autobiographical supply, Moffie has a jagged rhythm that’s extra attuned to sense-memory than to any kind of standard narrative development. Raucous passages of informal roughhousing and illicit ingesting sit alongside coaching sequences set to classical music and opera (which recall Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, although this movie is nowhere close to as elliptical and poetic as that one). In the meantime, scenes of abuse and violent bullying reduce in opposition to the lethal dullness of a VHS tutorial session. Aside from Nicholas, Stassen, and a rebellious recruit named Sachs (Matthew Vey), Hermanus doesn’t take many pains to differentiate between the recruits. However this largely works within the movie’s favor, leaving room for moments unattached from any bigger trajectory. One of many movie’s most memorable scenes knowingly toys with the homoerotic overtones of a volleyball sport, earlier than ending abruptly in a violent, out-of-left-field disaster that’s by no means introduced up once more.
Hermanus’ contact is undeniably heavy, however although he regularly courts cliché, he usually manages to push past it, equivalent to throughout a midpoint flashback to Nicholas’ traumatic childhood expertise at a public swimming pool, which reaches a genuinely harrowing place with out being glibly “explanatory” of his scenario. (It helps, too, that the script, co-written by Jack Sidey, is economical with out being overdetermined.) Nonetheless, it’s in all probability by no means a good suggestion to hitch a pointedly irresolute finale to Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Query,” and at its worst, Hermanus’ forceful route can land with this kind of thudding literality. However befitting its harrowing topic of younger males hammered into inflexible conformity, Moffie leaves an enduring mark all the identical.