It is unbelievably brutal to watch
Moffie is a horrifying film that envelopes you with its disgusting display of racism and homophobia during the early 80s. Knowing only the very basic premise of the film, I had no idea what I was walking into, and it is unbelievably brutal to watch. The film never really eases its grip on you, keeping the tension at an all time high from beginning to end, assisted by an eerie overencompossing score. The full extent of human indecency is on full display here, and the film shows that if you come into boot camp with any humanity, that’s got to go before anyone notices.
Moffie is expertly captured, with some truly fantastic cinematography spread throughout; with every beautiful shot of the scenery there’s a close up with the surroundings blurred to match. There’s a flashback scene at a public pool that contains a tracking shot, following young Nicholas van der Swart to the locker room, and you can feel the gravity of every footstep the filmmaker makes in the process. Moments later, these issues float away as we receive a fantastic shot of Nicholas’ father fighting against another accusatory father - a simple yet elegant shot, something that can be said often to describe any number of moments within Moffie. The film succeeds in a number of ways, but what it does phenomenally well is make you invest in the situation that young Nicholas is being forced into and experience firsthand the tension that constantly builds from it.
Automatically being enlisted into the military at the age of 16, Nicholas van der Swart must navigate his new chaotic life of service. The film displays the relentless lack of freewill from a young age within the country of South Africa, and being a homosexual is one of the ultimate strikes against you during this time. Oliver Hermanus and Jack Sidey’s adaptation of André-Carl van der Merwe’s memoir, the film delivers a look at the trauma teenagers endure as they are thrust into this violent world of being a mandatory soldier. The film provides a grim view at two years of Nicholas' life in the service and the turmoil it took on his mental health. Along with the main military centric storyline, we have the opportunity to view glimpses of his life as a child to better showcase his stretched out discovery of his sexuality. Sadly the final moments of the film leave a lot to be desired, as while he may be home from his duty, the need to show such a sudden end to his reconnection with one of his fellow soldiers ultimately felt like a rushed conclusion to a devastating true story.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Split between subtitles and English, Moffie is terrifically acted from every aspect. You believe that each character you come in contact with is who they say they are, and you can feel the reasons behind their actions. Nicholas van der Swart certainly is the central focus of the story, and Kai Luke Brummer is deserving of high praise for this portrayal of the man. While diving deep into Nicholas’ own sexuality beyond instances of it shining through, the stress of knowing that the people around him may come to a conclusion about him and show no mercy is always a looming fear. Beyond Nicholas however, we are given only a number of characters that stay with you to the end. They are all wonderfully acted from the entire cast, it’s just a matter of too many characters that hinders the ability to gravitate toward anyone else besides Nicholas. However, you can’t help but have a relentless disgust toward the military commanders who take advantage of the young men forced to be in their company, going as far as to whip them with tree limbs, dehydrate them, or kick them right across the jaw while they’re down. The villains are powerful in this film, and you can’t help but root for our main character Nicholas van der Swart to make it out in one piece.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Visually, the movie is gorgeous. Brilliantly layed out, every shot either perfectly encapsulates the stress of a character on screen, the tension of the entire squadron, or the gorgeous scenery around the troops. Oliver Hermanus and cinematographer Jamie Ramsey (District 9) knew exactly what to do to make the audience experience the pain and trauma these young men were constantly going through during their few years of service.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Resembling a screeching horror presence, Braam du Toit’s score is a fascinating one to listen to in the context of the scenes it’s being placed atop. Picked apart separately, the idea of mixing these two styles should not blend, yet it somehow succeeds. Around the score we receive a perfect amount of silence to better excelerate the tense situations the audience is placed in at all times. When the soldiers find themselves in a gunfight, the bullets echo and mute out all other noise, so you feel each shot’s presence, and that’s something that isn’t said lightly.
Moffie makes me want to fully invest myself into watching the remainder of Hermanus’ filmography; if it’s as powerful as this, this director/writer needs us to pay more attention.