Oliver Hermanus

South Africa, United Kingdom , 2019 / 103 min / English and Afrikaans OV with English subt. / drama, romance, war

A young conscript struggles not only with his military service in Apartheid South Africa but also with his homosexuality.

To be a moffie is to be weak, effeminate, illegal. The year is 1981 and South Africa’s white minority government is embroiled in a conflict on the southern Angolan border. Like all white boys over the age of sixteen, Nicholas Van der Swart must complete two years of compulsory military service to defend the Apartheid regime. The threat of communism and “die swart gevaar” – the so-called black danger – is at an all-time high. But that’s not the only danger Nicholas faces. He must survive the brutality of the army, something that becomes even more difficult when a connection is sparked between him and a fellow recruit, Stassen. Connection turns into attraction and Stassen becomes impossible to resist. Exposed to a relentlessly macho culture of institutionalised racism and virulent homophobia, Nicholas follows orders and has to keep his sexuality invisible to make it out of the army alive.

“Our title is a derogatory Afrikaans term for ‘gay’. It is a South African weapon of shame, used to oppress gay or effeminate men. When you are called this word for the first time, you hide from it. You edit yourself. It is when you first pretend you are someone else. The realisation that you are visible is instant. All you know about that word is that it means you are bad. You are rejectable and unacceptable and during Apartheid, just like a black woman or man, you were a crime. And so you needed to put it away, you needed to cover it up, kill it – the moffie inside you. This is a film about how white South African men have been made for nearly a century. A hidden history of the generation of white men who had to endure the Apartheid propaganda machine. For many their conscription into the army destroyed them because it forcibly imprinted upon nearly one million white boys a diseased ideology of white supremacy, racial intolerance and the desire to eradicate homosexuality and communism from South African society.” Director’s statement by Oliver Hermanus

Thu 12/03 14:00 Ciné Utopia EN & Afrikaans OV with EN subt. Public
Sat 14/03 16:30 Cinémathèque EN & Afrikaans OV with EN subt. Public

“Hermanus, a black South African film-maker, has said that he initially balked at the prospect of making a film about the plight of his nation’s white minority. But he was swayed by the power of Andre-Carl van der Merwe’s memoir (Moffie’s source material) and by an unexpected sense of kinship with the desperate duo at its centre. Without ever glossing over South Africa’s culture of institutionalised racism, Hermanus suggests that its rampant homophobia is creating its share of casualties too. […] Moffie is measured, remorseless; it crawls right under your skin. By the time these virgin soldiers are removed from the barracks, sent into the rushes where the enemy lies in wait, it almost comes as a sweet relief.” Xan Brooks, The Guardian, 04/09/19

"South African auteur Oliver Hermanus makes his masterpiece with this brutal but radiant story of young gay desire on the Angolan war front. […] Moffie is Hermanus’ masterpiece in the true sense of the term: the film that consolidates all the promise and preoccupations of his previous work into one quite stunning feat of formal and narrative artistry, establishing him quite plainly as South Africa’s most vital contemporary filmmaker. […] Hermanus’ young ensemble plays it with sensitivity and skill, but this is a director’s triumph first and foremost: a dogs-of-war hellride of “Full Metal Jacket” intensity, a queer coming-of-age meditation with something of “Moonlight’s” salt-on-skin tenderness, and a scorching evocation of South Africa’s Border War shame with no major precedent in a national cinema still working through its blind spots. “Moffie” achieves some hard grace in under two hours: Never has the titular slur borne such beauty.” Guy Lodge, Variety, 05/09/19

“Oliver Hermanus doesn’t push too far on the theme of homosexuality as the film expounds the cruelty and senselessness of military life. And yet, with great humility, Moffie nonetheless succeeds in reminding us just how difficult it was to be a homosexual until just a few years ago in many countries, how it still is difficult today and how important it is that we continue to make our voices heard.” Camillo de Marco, Cineuropa, 06/09/2019

  • Mermaid Award – Best LGBTQI-themed Film, Thessaloniki Film Festival, 2019 (Greece)
Cast & Credits
Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak, Hilton Pelser, Wynand Ferreira, Rikus Terblanche, Shaun Chad Smit, Hendrik Nieuwoudt
Oliver Hermanus, Jack Sidey, d’après le livre éponyme de André-Carl van der Merwe
Jamie D Ramsay
Stéphane de Rocquigny
Franz Lewis
Braam du Toit
Portobello Productions
Portobello Film Sales

Oliver Hermanus is an award-winning South African filmmaker born in Cape Town in 1983. He started his career as a press photographer before studying at the University of Cape Town and the University of California. Thanks to a private scholarship by director Roland Emmerich, he could complete his Master of Arts degree at the London Film School. His first feature, Shirley Adams (2009), premiered in competition at the 62nd Locarno Film Festival, while his second feature-length film Beauty (2011) screened in the Un Certain Regard strand at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Queer Palm. His third film, The Endless River (2015), premiered in competition at the 72nd Venice Film Festival. It was the first South African film to ever be invited to the official competition. Moffie (2019) is his fourth feature film since his debut in 2009 and started its festival run in Venice before winning the best LGBTQI-themed film in Thessaloniki.

  • 2019 – Moffie
  • 2015 – The Endless River
  • 2011 – Skoonheid
  • 2009 – Shirley Adams