Forced into service at the age of sixteen, Nicholas Van der Swart is one of many young boys instigated to uphold the apartheid regime in South Africa, 1981. A breeding ground for institutionalized racism and homophobia, the military attempts to crush the soldier’s spirits—many of whom are desperate to keep the closet door shut. Yet, no matter how hard the drill sergeant—reminiscent of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987)—tries, the flame of love can never quite be extinguished.
Directed by Oliver Hermanus and Jack Sidey, Moffie is a quietly powerful drama based on the autobiographical novel by Andre Carl van der Merwe. Stunning, dusky imagery, framed in academy ratio, brings artistic flair to an otherwise brutal narrative. One where homophobia goes hand in hand with South Africa’s white patriarchy. Not only does Moffie challenge ideas of masculinity, but avoids the over-sexualised, military erotica stereotype. Intense, yet seemingly effortless, Moffie flows with a clear sense direction, with Nicholas always at it’s centre.
Raw but never grisly; bleak but never insincere, Hermanus and Sidey always manage to find a way into the light. Meditative, sobering and intrinsically told, Moffie is the tale of forbidden love, suppressed by a regime that damages both sides. When two other soldiers-in-training are seen sharing a shower cubicle, Nicholas witnesses first-hand the consequences of his innermost desires. And it’s here he must make the decision that’s been haunting him all his life.
Back-dropping Nicholas’s struggle—caught between his heart and his head—is the border conflict with the Communist-led Angola. Cultural differences litter the screen; black and white, left and right-wing, African and British (Nicholas being of dual nationality). But at the heart of van der Merwe’s story is the message of love and acceptance—whether that be between two men or between two nations. We witness the beauty of the world with them—lounging on golden beaches—and the horrors of the world without them, where innocent men bleed out in the dirt.
Poignant and full of soul, Moffie is a gorgeously filmed, well-acted piece of independent cinema. Watch it now on Amazon Prime or Curzon Home Cinema.