Ahead of the US theatrical and on demand release of the acclaimed, BAFTA-nominated fourth feature from writer-director Oliver Hermanus, Moffie, this Friday April 9th, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive chat with its star Kai Luke Brümmer. Brümmer, who makes his impressive big screen acting debut in the film, portrays sixteen-year-old Nicholas van der Swart who is enlisted to serve two years mandatory military service in 1980s Apartheid South Africa. In the midst of dehumanizing combat training reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket and an environment of toxic masculinity—where being labelled moffie (a derogatory term for effeminate or homosexual) is to be avoided at all costs—Nicholas finds tenderness with a handsome fellow conscript, Stassen (Ryan de Villiers).
Moffie received its world premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival where it was nominated for the Queer Lion, and went on to play the BFI London Film Festival where The Queer Review’s Chad Armstrong praised the film as “outstanding” and described Brümmer’s performance as “wonderful” and “empathetic” in his ★★★★★ review.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Congratulations on the film, I was really touched by the love story at the centre of it, so tender amidst all the brutality and dehumanization of the combat training. It’s very powerful but quite a lot goes unspoken and I wondered what you made of that aspect of the film, and what it was like creating the on screen relationship with Ryan de Villiers who plays Dylan Stassen.
Kai Luke Brümmer: “The driving force through the film for me is this real story of hope amidst this terrible environment, and Ryan De Villiers is not hard to fall in love with I mean, look at him, he’s a gorgeous human being and he has the most wonderful personality and is so generous as a performer. So it was not hard at all to do that!”
Your character Nicholas is pretty young when he gets conscripted isn’t he, and there’s a lot of things going on in the film thematically, but in some ways, especially as far as your character is concerned, it’s a coming of age story in really exceptional circumstances. What were some of the things that you enjoyed about exploring and playing the character?
“For me, the most interesting thing was that my dad had been to the army during a similar time to my character, so it was a real glimpse into that time period that I think formed a lot of white men. They were young and they became indoctrinated, they were militarized and became kind of like pulses with a trigger finger, they were these nerve endings. It was really interesting for me to interrogate being a young man who’s turned into a weapon.”
You mentioned that when it came to research you had that resource very close to home, which doesn’t happen that often I guess as an actor, but did that open up some conversations with your father that you hadn’t had before and what kind of specific insights did he give you?
“My dad had never spoken to me about the army before I got the film and it was this wonderful opportunity where I got to take him for different lunches and really kind of tried to understand why he went to the army and why he wasn’t a conscientious objector. Obviously with the privilege of time and space we can say that from 2020. Both my father and the director Oliver encapsulated all of that in saying that it was a time where information was less and fear was greater. The Apartheid regime was very good at controlling its population and censoring and segregating and oppressing them.”
It’s a very interesting title that isn’t only about literally being gay, it brings in all sorts of elements of what isn’t perceived as heteronormative and there’s an examination of toxic masculinity in the film. Could you touch upon that, but then also maybe bring in your own experience, I know when you were younger, although you’re not gay yourself, you encountered that word just because you were doing ballet.”
“Moffie is a South African term, but these kinds of words that diminish the queer community are not only South African they’re universal and we’ve got many different phrases for people to dehumanize them and anything that is different and opposite to this patriarchal norm and heteronormative norm. It was really interesting for me to unpack that. The title was so important for both Oliver, and our producers Eric Abraham and Jack Sidey, because it was a provocation; it was a reclaiming of the word, saying we’re taking this back and we’re taking the power away from it, so it was really important. For me, it was such an eye-opening experience and a privilege to be able to have told this story.”
By James Kleinmann
Moffie opens in select US theaters and on demand Friday April 9th 2021 from IFC Films.
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