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‘Moffie’ review: Moving queer war drama

A welcome entry.

Moffie is a rare entry in queer cinema. The war drama is based in 1981 South Africa during Apartheid. Nicholas Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) is serving his two years of compulsory military service to defend the current regime against communism and the impending “black danger”. The fight also includes institutionalized homophobia which only becomes worse when he meets a recruit named Dylan Stassen (Ryan de Villiers).

The term “moffie” is an anti-gay slur used in South Africa. It can be used as seemingly harmless teasing that questions a man’s masculinity or it can be targeted hate speech. It is similar to the “Fa” word in America. While the definition of the word is never outright given in Moffie, it is very clear what it means. During training scenes that are reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket, the term is thrown around at any sign of weakness. It is obviously the worst thing a man can be called.

Moffie is an emotionally powerful film. The boot camp that is basically psychological torture is the most prominent example, but there is much more. The scenes between Nicholas and Dylan are equally powerful, though for different reasons. In contrast to the scenes of brutality, they are sensitive and tender. This roller coaster of differing passions keeps the audience engaged.

Adding to the deep feeling in the movie, is the great camerawork. Director Oliver Hermanus brings a euphoric and sinister look to Moffie through the lens. Through it all, there is a sense of paranoia. Moffie is filled with great performances. Along with Brummer and de Villiers, Hilton Pelser is excellent as the sadistic drill sergeant that dominates the first hour or so of the film. Each character brings a new dimension that enables the audience to get further invested in the overall story.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of stories about underrepresented people being told on film. While this is an overall good thing, there are times when the idea of being a “queer” movie is more important than the feeling behind it. With its strong performances and moving story, Moffie is able to capture the mood and perspective.

Moffie comes to select theaters and digital and online platforms April 9

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