Moffie review – soldiers on the frontline of homophobia

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Hidden passions add to the brutish hell of apartheid-era South African conscripts in Oliver Hermanus’s skilfully tense drama

Moffie, screening in the Orizzonti sidebar at Venice, is a tense, stealthy rites-of-passage drama from the dog days of South Africa’s apartheid regime, a tale of callow young conscripts inside a corroded old system. Set in 1981 during the country’s border conflict with communist-backed Angola, Oliver Hermanus’s film manages an unflinching portrait of a society in spasm; paranoid and brutish and largely screaming at itself. It’s a war story of sorts in which the battle has already been lost.

Kai Luke Brummer gives a fine performance as Nicholas, a willowy 18-year-old at a sun-blasted army boot-camp. Nick and his fellow soldiers are supposed to be fighting the enemy, but the only action they’re seeing is on the volleyball court, or the dorm, or sometimes in the toilet cubicle, much to the sergeant’s horror. The way the officers see it, the very worst thing a soldier can be is a “moffie”, an Afrikaans insult that the subtitles translate as “faggot”. “Moffie!” they scream – as though they regard homosexuality as a mad dog that has somehow got under the fence, or an invading swarm of wasps, liable to sting any man who isn’t properly covered up.

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