In Oliver Hermanus’ unflinching look at homophobia during Apartheid-era South Africa, 18-year-old Nicholas must hide his sexual tendencies while completing his two years of mandatory military service, amid the country’s conflict with Angola.
Moffie is certainly not perfect, with clear-pacing issues slowing the film down, and a third act that loses itself completely, but what works simply works too well for it to matter. This is mostly an exceptional film; one that hits all the necessary emotional beats and gets across its messages without preaching to its audience or detracting from its central story and characters.
There’s no denying that Moffie is excruciatingly tough to sit through, with Hermanus offering us a brutally realistic portrayal of the systemic homophobia at play here. The majority of the film takes place in an army boot camp, with violence and behaviour comparable to war itself, and the soldiers subjected to awful treatment, nothing short of undeserved and unwarranted. In this country at this time, the general view is that there isn’t much worse than being gay, and this isn’t something Hermanus has shied away from. His film gets under your skin in a meaningful and memorable way.
What makes Moffie powerful and moving, in spite of the brutal nature of many of its scenes, is the relationship at the heart of it. Nicholas’ plight is made more difficult by Stassen, a fellow soldier who he immediately feels a connection to. This bond is never oversold. It’s perfectly played, understated and real, with Kai Luke Brummer’s central performance convincingly layered enough to sell it, despite the minimal screen time they actually share. It’s this relationship that makes the otherwise difficult story worth sitting through, if only for the glimmers of hope it offers on rare occasions that maybe, just maybe, this will turn out okay.
Moffie is utterly remorseless and unbearably difficult to watch at times, while still being a visceral, tender and poignant look at human connection. It’s a film that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled and one that rises above its minor flaws to drive its message home.
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