Lead actor Kai Luke Brümmer and director Oliver Hermanus. Daniel Rutland Manners
Lead actor Kai Luke Brümmer and director Oliver Hermanus. Daniel Rutland Manners

'Moffie', a tale of forbidden love in the army during the apartheid era

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Mar 22, 2020

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Based on the novel by André Carl Van Der Merwe, "Moffie" is set in the 1980s. It follows the journey of a young army recruit, who, after forming a close bond with a fellow recruit, is forced to keep it a secret to avoid any discrimination by his right wing superiors. 

Cast as Nicholas van der Swart, the army recruit in question, Kai Luke Brümmer was pretty chuffed about landing the role. 

He said: “It was a huge privilege to play Nicholas. When I heard that I got the role I was ecstatic.”

Peeling back the layers of his character, he added: Nicholas is a boy who doesn’t feel comfortable at home or by himself. He is estranged from his identity and yet somehow he comes to find himself in the army; a realisation that, if found out, would be punishable by law.  He, like so many other young men, was damaged by the army. But, at the same time, it is the thing that makes him ’strong’.”

Prior to filming, Brümmer researched the character. 

He revealed: “I did a lot of research prior to the film. Most of my research revolved around creating a believable backstory for the character.”

And that explains his critically-acclaimed performance. 

Brümmer added: “There is something about the generation of men that went to the border; it was a repression of some sort.  So I focused on how Nicholas would have to ‘hide’ himself from those around him.”

On the relevance of the story is today’s world, he shared: “I hope Nicholas’s journey helps create debate, catharsis and a sense of understanding.”

While Brümmer brought the character to life, director Oliver Hermanus was tasked with ensuring the narrative remained compelling and that it flowed. 

 As for what drew him to the book and how he, along with Jack Sidey, approached it for the movie adaptation, he shared: “I was drawn to the period it was set in, the experiences of this generation of men that I knew very little, if not nothing about.”

Shedding light on the main themes of the movie, he added: “For me, the film is about shame and indoctrination not just of gay men in the army but of this generation of men.

On casting Brümmer as the lead, Hermanus pointed out: “Kai’s portrayal of Nicholas is visceral. A very understated but powerful performance.”

Audiences and critics around the globe have responded very favourably to the film. 

He added: “They have been incredibly encouraging and supportive. Moffie has had a lot of love from the world!”

What lessons will today’s audience take away from the movie?

He said: “This is a film about our past that informs our present in a very pertinent way. It’s about how white men have been made in SA for over a century.  As for lessons, I’m not sure, perhaps it simply poses the question about what how we shame boys if they are not a certain kind of man.”

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