ENTERTAINMENT NEWS - During apartheid, the South African government conscripted thousands of members of the white male population into the army.
Many young men did their bit to keep the communists from the door and if we refused to do our duty for the country we faced jail. I got to know a number of “conscious objectors” and the stories they recounted weren’t pretty.
Moffie is a film that revisits this era of conscription when young men were plucked from their families and sent to the border.
It inspects one aspect of army life that existed, albeit a sensitive subject swept under the carpet by the authorities – homosexuality.
Many young men found themselves in a living hell during their training, with many abused and ostracised by the pack.
Oliver Hermanus’ production is set in the early 1980s. It focuses on a gay young man named Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer), who is forced to keep his sexual preferences under wraps for fear of being discovered.
Based on Andre Carl van der Merwe’s book, Moffie bares little resemblance to the rigorous army training I underwent in the mid-1960s, creating instead a dark, hateful environment in which bullies were in charge.
The collection of army instructors I encountered during my training were often nasty, foul-mouthed individuals, but they were nothing like the bunch of psychopathic brutes depicted in Hernandes’ tepid production.
These people were more likely to kill you during training than shape you into a fighting machine. “Breaking men down” seemed to be their constant obsession.
The noncommissioned officers in Moffie are extreme characters, especially the unsmiling Sgt Brand, played by the stern-faced Hilton Pelser.
He captures the intense intimidation that most of the raw, inexperienced soldiers had to face on a daily basis and his bullying tactics were an unrelenting attack on the psyche.
Given the fear in the country at the time, stoked at every turn by the Nationalist government, plus the spectre of an unfolding border war, one understands the exacting task the army had in preparing inexperienced rookies for the border.
Moffie goes for the jugular and shows the worst side of the army without delving into the psychological facets involved.
In Hermanus’ hands, Moffie strives gallantly to become something of an art house experience, with its framing, its long, pregnant pauses, its paucity of dialogue and its often sketchy characterisations.
There is a scene in which one unfortunate troepie blows his brains out, but this thread is never developed.
The key character, Van der Swart, never seems to be a real entity. For the most part, he appears to be submerged in a dream world.
One night he goes on patrol and meets the enemy, sequences which are, visually, difficult to follow.
Overall, Moffie could have been so much more in terms of human interaction during a time of stress. It is disappointing.