From a South African Slur to a Scathing Drama About Toxic Masculinity
A chance meeting with the director Roland Emmerich and his cameraman Ueli Steiger in a restaurant in Cape Town led to a friendship that changed everything. “One day Roland said to me that if you come to film school, I’ll give you a scholarship,” said Hermanus. “Somehow they saw something in me; It’s a perfect example of what it means to invest in people. “
Hermanus attended the London Film School for three years and made the full-length “Shirley Adams” as a graduation film. “You should be doing a short film, but I’ve worn them out,” said Hermanus. The film’s critical success in South Africa and abroad led to the invitation to visit Cannes, where he began to work on “Beauty”, a study of a gay obsession in a close African community.
Like Hermanus’ other films, “Moffie” is the product of what he describes as “forensic” preparation. He researched the era, aided by Ramsay, who had collected images of the South African border war in the 1970s and 80s before participating in the film. And the director met with the actors regularly for months, worked out their backstories, and then sent them to boot camp for a week.
“Oliver created an environment where anything was possible because we understood our characters and this world,” said Hilton Pelser, who plays the terrible Sergeant Brand, in a video interview. “I understand what Brand is trying to do. In a very dark, very violent way, he’s trying to save her life. “
The film, Hermanus said, is a reflection of the collapse of apartheid, the moment when the minority government stoked fear and suspicion because it lost its footing. There are very few black characters in the film, and all of them are the brief subject of violence or contempt. “I wanted the film to be from the perspective of white South Africa,” said Hermanus, “and that was his reality.”