Moffie – an unfinished review

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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 Angolan 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.

As extraordinary and as hauntingly beautiful as Skoonheid (Oliver Hermanus’s second film) was, I could only recommend it to die-hard cinephiles, and still then I included a warning. It all builds up to a crushing scene which traumatised this rather thick-skinned reviewer. It attests to the power of the film. Moffie, even more extraordinary and more hauntingly beautiful than Skoonheid, is not Skoonheid. Everyone should see it. No warning necessary.

The first few frames – in 4:3 format, flawlessly colour-treated and styled, shot on a perfect location – immediately places you in what is unmistakably the 80s, in apartheid South Africa. Everything is beautiful though, from the brooding landscapes, the wind in the grass, the dreamy lighting, to the underwater shots and the young men. The beauty does not, however, lull you into a false sense of safety, because as the cello music builds from a whimper to a scream, you know what lies underneath the water’s surface. You fully understand the threat posed to this gentle boy. So, you wait for it to come tumbling down. Whether it does or not, I will not say.

Along the way, there are brutal scenes of war, anger, toxic masculinity and blind nationalism. There are also tender moments of sharing a sleeping bag, singing “Sugarman” and a desperate wink when words fail. It is these tender moments that make the brutal moments more bearable, but also so much more brutal.

I am leaving this review unfinished, for if I describe the wordless, aching scene between Brand and Nicholas, a scene that represents the brilliance of this film, I will give away too much and spoil it for you. The only other thing I will say, is that Skoonheid dealt with repressing the desire and anger of one man. Moffie deals with repressing and brutalising a whole generation.

Kyk die lokprent hier:

Kyk ook na bekendes se reaksie op die woord moffie

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  • Diensplig was nie om die apartheid regime te beskerm nie, daar was 50 000 Kubane en 2000 Russe in Angola. Ons was daar om die kommuniste te verhoed om die Kaapse seeroete te vat, sodat hulle die Weste kon beheer. (Die Seuzkanaal was toe weens skeepswrakke uit die 1967 oorlog.) Dit was `n proxy oorlog, namens Amerika, begin deur CIA (John Stockweel, In search of enemies).

  • Cannot for a moment identify with Warrington's take on this movie after reading Peter Feldman's review in the Citizen of Friday 13 March. He sees it as a "second-rate account and a disjointed, disappointing look at SA's bush war". Feldman's account of his own experiences as a conscript in the mid-sixties lays bare (in my opinion) the false impressions created in Hermanus's production which also reflect perfectly my own year spent in the mild SADF training environment circa 1964.

    Frankly, only those who were subjected to the realities of army training anywhere in the world except what one expects was the insane environment in, for example, Hitler's war machine, could write a coherent script iro the true state of military affairs at the time in SA.

    Racism, Nationalism, and all other nasty 'isms' aside, the film, it seems to me, is perfectly suited to the emasculated among us, so I'll give it a miss and much rather rely on first hand experiences which in this instance bear absolutely no resemblance to Warrington's or the producer's impressions of the state of affairs ala SA military at the time.

  • Ek het my matriek in 1980 gedoen, en is opgeroep om die volgende jaar (1981, die jaar waarin Moffie afspeel) diensplig te doen, by 3 SA Infanterie. Die "soldate" in die lokprent se hare is lank (ons moes elke twee weke alles afskeer), en hulle lyk onfiks. Oorlog is moeilik; opleiding is moeilik, sodat jy die wreedheid van oorlog kan oorleef. In my tydperk (my laaste kamp was in 1994, toe Mandela my commander-in-chief was) het ek nooit diskriminasie teen moffies ondervind nie. Maar, diensplig het `n diep sny gemaak, en sekere van ons offisiere was plein sadiste. Die oorlog moet gebalanseerd bekyk word; nie met tonnelvisie nie.

  • That would be good advice under most circumstances RW. But having followed PF’s opinions for decades coupled with personal experience garnered over twelve months of SADF training at the time where none of the mentioned shortcomings as reflected in what I’ve heard and read about the film were correct, plus a radio interview broadcast last week conducted with the producer convinced me to not spare the time or effort of subjecting myself to what now seems a patently flawed production, given the reflections.
    A factor that bothered me when listening to the broadcast interview was use of “Sugar-man” audio extracts in production to support “Moffie”.
    Is that not riding on the back of another’s major success to support your production? One must brush over that I suppose, as once you have such permission its not creating any precedent. But, it sticks in my craw and perhaps it does in the opinion of others too.
    I don’t plan to drag my tired body along to a cinema, when my evaluation says rather give it a miss as just another wannabe effort to garner support for a swipe at the 'dastardly' system, which it certainly seems to be, in my opinion.
    Finally, casting aspersions on the good character of SADF instructors of the time is just so absurd, as again in my experience most were dedicated, driven, well-trained, super sportsmen, passionate and decent men who impressed me greatly. They all had sound minds in sound bodies, which was our SAAF gymnasium motto, a challenge which sure gave lots of grounding in early life completely devoid of any political or social engineering designed to subvert young minds. Never once was such subversion apparent.

  • Reney, jammer ek antwoord nou eers: daar was `n internasionale krisis in ons huis. Nee, ek het nie die fliek gaan kyk nie, en gaan ook nie. Dis hoekom my kritiek teen diensplig self was, en die stukkie in die lokprent. (Sedert diensplig vind ek dit baie emosioneel en moeilik om oorlogflieks te kyk. Slegs realistiese uitbeeldings, soos Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Siege of Firebase Gloria, Hair, is kykbaar.) Die res, veral Amerikaanses, is suiwer propaganda, bedoel om die land goed te laat lyk.

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    Herman Lategan

    This is a good review. A note to some of the commentators – there are some among us who forget this is based on an autobiographical book by André Carl van der Merwe. You can't claim that his own “lived experience” is fake or not as vivid or correct as you might remember.
    In addition, that old trope that we were fighting communists belongs in the same rubbish bin as Die Swart Gevaar, Die Rooi Gevaar, Die Roomse Gevaar and all the other gobbledygook and drivel that they used to brainwash us with.
    We were fighting to prop up apartheid, with the help of the NG Kerk. I was there, I sat in those hideous sanctimonious churches and listened to why that war was allegedly of such importance.
    That same army was also used to fight black people in township and murder them. The two wars, inside the country and on the border, sucked on the same mother’s breasts.
    Furthermore, those white men who now look back with such rose-tinted glasses at the Bush War, suffer from cognitive bias and the way they nostalgically frame the whole experience is revealing.
    Talk about toxic masculinity, one would have thought that by now you could have worked through it. Evidently not. That those wars were complex and left many people scarred, is undeniable.
    We need more stories told about that era, for healing to begin.
    On a technical point, the hair was long, indeed. We as troepies had to keep it short. Oliver Hermanus consciously decided to use poetic licence, he wanted some semblance of individuality in each character.
    Those of you who have not seen it should refrain from commenting. If you’ve read another person’s review, specifically the one by Peter Feldman, you should take heed.
    I’ve read it – it’s a caption that misses the point, and nothing more.

  • Dis absurd om te dink ons het in Angola geveg om apartheid in plek te hou. [Dit is Moskou propaganda] Dit was `n proxy-oorlog, wat deur die CIA se John Stockwell afgeskop is. (Lees sy In Search of Enemies) Natuurlik het die kapelane en dominees en offisiere ons vertel die oorlog is "vir volk en vaderland". Hulle noem dit indoktrinasie, sodat jy `n rede het om te veg. En artikel 44 van die Verdedigingswet van 1953 het jongmans laat verkies om diensplig te doen as om in die tronk te sit. (Naby my bly `n Sewende Dag Adventis. Sy drie seuns het saam 10 jaar in die tronk gesit omdat hulle geweier het om diensplig te doen. As oud-soldaat repekteer ek hulle; dit is dapperheid.)

    Waar het ons mense in die townships vermoor? Die polisie was eintlik in beheer; ons het net "uitgehelp". En Koevoet, die Polisie se spesmag, het meer terrs op die grens doodgeskiet as wat ons soldate gedoen het. As jy diens gedoen het in die townships, het swart vrouens hulle broeke afgetrek en jou gekoggel met hulle naak derrieres. Daar is menslike ontlasting in jou gesig gegooi.

    Lees Bob Hitchcock (`n Brits joernalis vir die Rand Daily Mail) se boek Flashpoint South Africa, oor hoe die kriminele eintlik die opstoot van 1976 misbruik het, en gekaap het.

  • The wars were indeed complex, and the collateral damage lives on in many diverse memories given the immense complexities of this country's history since the white man stepped onto African shores many decades ago. The Afrikaners stake in that history is a harsh yet magnificent tale of a social grouping determined to dig in its heels after so many indignities and setbacks that its not at all surprising tactical errors and bad judgement would surface along the way. That happened, and we sit with the consequences today.
    Vilifying the entire military structuring during the last administration will have many who lived through training at the time crying foul iro 'Moffie', and today just a quarter century of alternative government based on graft, corruption, rampant criminal activity etc has a large chunk of SA society existing in a state of cognitive dissonance far outweighing any cognitive bias that may be lurking in minds. Handing this country over to the ANC was to say the least a sick joke, one which is being certified on a daily basis now and anyone who disagrees is living in denial.
    In the final analysis its the dollar in the pocket that counts and international rating agencies are quite decided on that count.
    Our currency and SOE's are finally junked. South Africans would be far better off with a qualified franchise in place, instead of a universal franchise based on sheer numbers.
    As for the movie, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Not a good idea to nibble on a diet distorted by artistic license.

  • Mic drop my foot RW, Herman's endorsement that 'those who have not seen it shouldn't comment' is wrong. The entire civilized world relies extensively on published criticism of movies etc and most provide a star rating as well. This has become perfectly acceptable for those who prefer a sifting process in the exercise of participation or avoidance, for sound reasons.
    Peter Feldman, as already mentioned in this debate is a highly respected and experienced critic who I trust.Completely for perspective, and in that regard I suggest you, Herman and other interested souls should refer to his Linkedin spread for a few positive pointers spanning his impressions iro the entire arts sector in this country and elsewhere, over many decades. He sure would not have survived in this field given the very wide and selective audience he reaches and has not found to be wanting hence my own reliance on his abilities to serve as a sounding board before I bother to go a step further in selection processes. It just so happens that fortunately any discerning observer resorts to qualified opinions rather than negative subjection when it comes to parting with even a few bucks in today's subjective environment fraught as it is with fake news and many more pitfalls while seeking excellence in production. So, pick up your microphone/pen again RW and brave the criticism as it develops. In the meantime I will withdraw as I have a sore eye, living on pilchards and pills until the virus disappears.

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