Monday, April 5, 2021

Training for service in the South African military, circa 1981: Oliver Hermanus' MOFFIE

I'm not certain that the title word of Oliver Hermanus' new movie, MOFFIE, is ever actually spoken in the film itself (TrustMovies' understanding of the language of Afrikaans is nearly nonexistent, so he may have simply missed it*), but as moffie is the film's title and its publicity materials explain that the word describes someone weak, effeminate and illegal -- all of which homosexuals were perceived as some forty years ago in South Africa (elsewhere, too) -- the word is not simply eponymous, it stands as the prime example of something you would not want to be thought or spoken about yourself. Especially when you're doing military training/service. 

If the movie manages nothing else, it will leave you feeling that South Africa, under the old Apartheid regime, offered the most disgusting military training seen on film. (Even Full Metal Jacket may seem something of a walk in the park.)

Mr. Hermanus, shown at right, concentrates most on the damage -- physical, emotional and psychological -- done to these young men under the charge and care of their commanding officer and less on the fact (perhaps mere assumption in some cases) of their homosexuality and any actual acting upon their emotional or physical attraction. 

Consequently Moffie is weighted heavily on the side of violence and ugliness to the point at which you're likely to imagine that you, too, would remain in the closet for the rest of your dreadful, unhappy life.

Which is what our hero, Nicholas (played by Kai Luke Brümmer, at left, standing)  seems to be doing throughout the film -- and, from what we can gather, by the finale, he will continue doing, once the credits have finished rolling. (This is not one of those movies in which a good time is had by all. Or by anyone except the white, racist majority who tow the party line.) 

Even the barely budding romance between two military mates is quite effectively nipped in that bud via the attitude/actions of the powers-that-be.

Why sit through a movie like Moffie? (My spouse didn't, giving up on it about one-half-hour in.) For me, the film showed so clearly and sadly the destruction that apartheid had on the soul and body of South African by the coercion of the populace into thinking and acting on the notion/law that the only things that count are being white and "straight."  Anyone else was deemed something like a fourth-class citizen -- if that. 

Not that this idea has somehow disappeared from today's world. Donald Trump and his wretched administration, as well as the current American Republican party and its mostly rabid followers continue to promulgate this philosophy. So it is salutary to be forced to see and deal with the results, as per South Africa in the early 1980s via this film, and in the USA today, as seen all around us.

As co-writer (with Jack Sidey), Mr. Hermanus does a decent directing job, though the sometimes lovely, sometimes heavy-handed musical score seems to lead the film, rather than the other way around. Performances are  up-to-snuff (there's copious eye candy on view), and the dialog, more often sparse than full-bodied, seems appropriate in terms of how closed off and hidden so many of the lives on view must necessarily remain.

If I seem less than thrilled with Moffie overall, this is because the film does not tell us much that we don't already know. It simply makes it worse than we might have imagined.

From IFC Films, in English and Afrikaans (with English subtitles) and running 104 minutes, the movie opens in theaters -- including a welcome return to the IFC Center in New York City and to the Laemmle's Royal, NoHo 7 and Playhouse 7 in the Los Angeles area this Friday, April 9. Click here for more information on theatrical venues across the country and /or how and where to view the film from your home.

*The film's publicist tells me that the term "moffie" was indeed used in one scene, so chalk this up to my hearing/foreign language problems!

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