Eye-opening film 'Moffie' is set to strut its stuff at Venice Film Festival

25 August 2019 - 00:00
A scene from 'Moffie', directed by Oliver Hermanus. The film is about a gay SADF conscript
A scene from 'Moffie', directed by Oliver Hermanus. The film is about a gay SADF conscript
Image: Jamie D Ramsay

While the label “moffie” is derogatory and homophobic, director Oliver Hermanus hopes his eponymous film, like the book it is based on, will make people think about the word in a different way.

All eyes will be on the prestigious Venice Film Festival this week where Moffie will make its world premiere. The film is also nominated for a prestigious Queer Lion Award, honouring films that address LGBT+ themes.

The film is based on the memoir by André Carl van der Merwe and tells the story of a gay conscript who embarks on his military service in 1981.

“There was something about the shame factor, which is a big theme in the book, which I felt was important to explore in a South African film,” Hermanus told the Sunday Times. Like local film Inxeba (The Wound) before it, Moffie challenges stigmas and explores the sexuality of a gay person in a hypermasculine and conservative environment.

“The SADF [South African Defence Force] in the 1980s was this massive machine that was trying to keep apartheid going. It was … a time when white nationalism was at its most aggressive.

“Our history doesn’t document how, for many white teenagers in the military, the system was against them.”

The film is set for release in SA later this year.

Oliver Hermanus, director of the movie 'Moffie'
Oliver Hermanus, director of the movie 'Moffie'
Image: Jamie D Ramsay

This is only the fourth South African film to receive an invitation to the film festival. Hermanus’s 2015 film, The Endless River, was the first South African film to compete for the Golden Lion, the highest prize at the festival and one of the most prestigious in the film world.

Another of his films, Skoonheid (Beauty), won him the Queer Palm at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The sometimes graphic scenes in Skoonheid were “confronting for a lot of audiences”, Hermanus acknowledged. While Moffie may be different, “for conservative audiences it will, at the very least, be very eye-opening”, he said.

“Even the title of the film is provocative. The film is trying to deactivate the word or reappropriate it in a different way. I think it is still a weapon. ‘Moffie’ is still used to shame, belittle and dehumanise people.

“We feel that we have made movements forward, but there are still parts of the world where being gay is a crime, and we can’t forget that,” Hermanus said.

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