1h 44min | Drama, Romance, War | 24 April 2020 (UK)
Nicholas has long known he is different, that there is something shameful and unacceptable in him that must stay hidden, denied even. But South Africa’s minority government are embroiled in conflict at the Angolian border and all white young men over 16 must serve two years of compulsory military service to defend the Apartheid regime and its culture of toxic racist machismo. The ‘black danger’ is the real and present threat; what is wrong with Nicholas and others like him can be rooted out, treated and cured like a cancer. But just when fear pushes Nicholas to accept unspeakable horrors in the hopes of staying invisible, a tender relationship with another recruit becomes as dangerous for them both as any enemy fire.
I’d read the book which is atmospheric and weirdly compelling, if also slight and ultimately unsatisfying. But books with sparse narratives often make the best films (eg. Bridges of Madison County) so I was ready to give Moffie another go. The film is also atmospheric and offers some confronting insights into the apartheid years and South African army culture. Beyond that, it is less compelling than the book, and even more unsatisfying. There’s a fatal lack of narrative drive and no real attempt to flesh out key characters – acutely observed in the book, but only roughly sketched in the film. Our guide through two years of national service is Nicholas van der Swart, a sensitive young man, struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality and experiencing the first pangs of serious attraction. In the novel both his inner and outward struggle is moving and eventually devastating. But on film Nicholas appears frustratingly passive and considerably less heroic. Kai Luke Brummer makes an attractive Nick, but the role is almost entirely reactive, which makes for a somewhat lame hero. Perhaps Moffie is the film that that book deserved – faithful and true. But it still feels like a missed opportunity.
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Writers: Oliver Hermanus, Jack Sidey
Stars: Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey
Country: South Africa | UK
Language: Afrikaans | English
Release Date: 24 April 2020 (UK)
Also Known As: Zydras