For anyone not familiar, Moffie is a derogatory term for a gay man, hitting the nail on the head for a film that follows two gay men who attempt to hide their sexuality in 1980’s South Africa where it’s illegal, at the same time as being conscripted into the military to defend apartheid. Written and directed by Oliver Hermanus, co-written with Jack Sidey, starring: Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey and Stefan Vermaak.
Reading the synopsis of this film, it all sounds sufficiently bleak and depressing but don’t be put off, Hermanus’s directorial style reflects its leading man’s young age, you’re seeing everything through the eyes of a 16-year old. You’re side by side with Nicholas (Brummer) as he’s conscripted and has a massive layer of danger added to his burgeoning sexuality, forcing him to keep as quiet and unnoticed as he can. It’s impressively light-hearted despite its heavy subject and manages to avoid becoming dark despite at times being eye-opening and heart-breaking, again guiding you to sympathise deeply with its lead. The style comes across as understated, it feels real and relatable but at the same time it’s beautifully shot, it gives an utterly atmospheric experience that draws you in so strongly that it holds your attention wonderfully right to the very end.
Kai Luke Brummer’s performance as Nicholas is incredible, he holds the lead effortlessly and it’s so easy to get invested in his story, he’s just your average 16-year old who was born in the wrong time and forced to do things no-one that age should have to, without choosing it. The treatment of these young men is abhorrent, attempting to push them into becoming misogynist, racist, homophobic, toxic male personalities and almost destroying the decent men they can be in the process. The film shows the men that they are underneath, yes they fight for fun and like to show off their machismo, but there’s a brotherhood and loyalty running strong beneath the bravado. The supporting actors compliment Brummer’s performance wonderfully, particularly Ryan de Villiers and Matthew Vey as love interest and trusted friend respectively, the film may include a lot of brute force and testosterone but those three actors get real moments of vulnerability which are touching. These actors are not Hollywood stars on the rise, they’re homegrown talent and the film reflects that, they don’t come across even an ounce insincere but hopefully other filmmakers will see this and give them the opportunities to further grow as actors, like they deserve.
Despite that the film explores a very specific experience, it feels universal which was an extremely pleasant surprise and makes watching Moffie very rewarding. Hermanus’s directorial style feels firstly, full of production value, secondly graceful and elegant, in the face of such a brash and hateful subject, he makes something that’s personal and vulnerable. The writing is spot on, the story never dulls, it keeps you captivated and will break your heart, and the cinematography is stunning.
Moffie is a film that deserves attention, if viewers take the time to choose this film with its unusual name and cultural story, they’ll find something they can really relate to and genuinely enjoy. It’s satisfying to see such young actors give convincing, touching and grounded performances, in a story that’s as fascinating as it is poignant. This is Oliver Hermanus’s fourth feature but here’s hoping it’s the one that pushes him further into the limelight to give him more opportunities to make brilliant films like this.