Kai Luk Brümmer plays Nicholas Van der Swart in "Moffie". Picture: Dan Rutland Manners
Kai Luk Brümmer plays Nicholas Van der Swart in "Moffie". Picture: Dan Rutland Manners

'Moffie' addresses toxic masculinity, femininity, homosexuality and weakness

By Theolin Tembo Time of article published Mar 8, 2020

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Titling your film one of thee most polarising words in the South African lexicon is a bold move. It's unnerving, it's uncomfortable, and it touches on a lot of psychological wounds for many South African men. 

It simultaneously addresses toxic masculinity, femininity, homosexuality and weakness.

Just as one word can bring up such complex ideas, so does the latest film by Oliver Hermanus touch on all these various interconnected themes in "Moffie".

The year is 1981 and South Africa’s white minority government is embroiled in a conflict on the southern Angolan border. Like all white boys over the age of 16, Nicholas Van der Swart must complete two years of compulsory military service to defend the Apartheid regime. The threat of communism and “die swart gevaar” (the black danger) is at an all-time high. But that’s not the only danger Nicholas faces. He must survive the brutality of the army – something that becomes even more difficult when a connection is sparked between him and a fellow recruit.

There is no denying that the film by the talented director is exactly that, polarising. It captures your attention, has you squirming in seats at moments, and elicit feelings of frustration and agitation; and it does so because that is the film's intent.

Hermanus delivers a technically brilliant film. He paints a picture giving insight into the psychological torment and indoctrination white boys endured with such skill that allows you to gain some insight into how racially divided the country became. 

If you're indoctrinated into believing one race is your enemy, and to see skin not humanity - eventually that indoctrination will win out. 

The direction of the film, and the tone, and the colour grading all are gorgeous to watch. You can see that how this film was shot the audience in mind because what you see and experience is beautifully crafted.

Kai Luke Brummer as Nicholas van der Swart (left) Cinematographer Jamie D Ramsay (middle) and Director Oliver Hermanus (right). Picture: Dan Rutland Manners
Lian Smit as Lionel Prys (left) Hilton Pelser as Sergeant Brand (middle) and Stefan Vermaak as Fourie (right) in Moffie. Picture: Dan Rutland Manners

The cinematography is a standout, and Jamie D Ramsay should be commended for that. The numerous sunset shots, and lighting queues in the film are stunning and elevate "Moffie".

That being said, a movie can be technically brilliant but if the story isn't exactly there, it often can leave you wanting more. 

Ultimately, that was where "Moffie" missed the mark.

I could rave a lot about the film's production but I would be doing it a disservice not to highlight how story beats and the overarching narrative of the film needed some more work.

The film feels like it is building towards something but then it goes nowhere. It is a series of moment that feel connected but goes nowhere. 

You develop and care about the characters given the turmoil they endure but the movie feels like it doesn't reward you for that invest. 

The movie is based on a novel of the same name by André Carl van de Merwe, and I'll admit to not having read the novel, so maybe book readers might find the narrative structure makes more sense, it does feel that as a movie there needed to be more thought into the film's intent and what is driving the story forward.

Kai Luk Brümmer plays Nicholas Van der Swart in "Moffie". Picture: Dan Rutland Manners
Director Oliver Hermanus. Picture: Dan Rutland Manners
Left to Right - Wynand Ferreira as Snyman, Shaun Chad Smit as Van der Merwe, Ludwig Baxter as Siebert, Jan Combrink as Goud, Stefan Vermaak as Fourie. Picture: Dan Rutland Manners

An apt way to explain it would be like driving on a beautiful sight-seeing trip but the car runs out of petrol. You feel like you abruptly stop in the middle of the trip instead of feeling the car roll to a gentle stop.

Long metaphor short, the adaptation of the book needed to learn to account for the movie audience.

"Moffie" also unfortunately enters the zeitgeist at a time where many are feeling worn out by stories of Apartheid being told through the prism of a white man. 

That shouldn't be a strike an against the film because it's beautiful and while I was feeling that frustration before heading in to watch the film, it won me over. 

However, it doesn't eliminate the valid fact that we need to see stories of Apartheid through the eyes of black and brown people (that aren't named Mandela). I said this in a previous review, and it is worth repeating here: "SA needs to deliver new stories, and not just documentaries. 

"We are overdue for Apartheid set films about Black Sash movement, Thandi Modise and other black female activists during the Struggle. Along with LGBTQIA+ films set on the Cape Flats, in townships and with people of colour in the lead."

It's time.

With that being said, "Moffie" is a South African film that I would recommend people go out and support. 

It's a conversation starter, and will spark fierce debate and discussions which we can only benefit from. Oliver Hermanus delivers a visually and technically stellar film, and even with its story structure, is still worth the price of admission.

Genre: Drama

Running time: 1h 44m

MOFFIE stars Kai Luk Brümmer, Hitlon Pelser, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak, and Ryan de Villliers. It is produced by Eric Abraham, Jack Sidey and co-produced by Theresa Ryan- van Graan. It officially hits SA cinemas on 13 March 2020.

Rating: 3.5/5

Cape Argus

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