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LFF Review: Moffie / An Easy Girl

Kai Luke Brummer and Ryan de Villiers in Oliver Hermanus' Moffie
Kai Luke Brummer and Ryan de Villiers in Moffie

Simplicity suits Oliver Hermanus. The gifted, if not especially innovative South African filmmaker has such a keen sense of what makes a story sing, of what brings its characters to life, that it's only once his movies are allowed to settle into themselves that their full force can be made manifest. Moffie wanders along a variety of paths on its way to discovering what it is about itself that works best, a process that's not unrewarding, and certainly fitting for its protagonist, but Hermanus is not quite the right man to string these wanderings together with the combined power they ought to possess. Moffie is thus a fine, smart drama about self-discovery under nasty, ignoble circumstances, and no more than just fine until it can shake off the shackles of development and become the stinging statement of rebuke on oppression that it intends to be. Hermanus leads his movie to a direct, clear-eyed, yet painfully ambiguous conclusion, not unlike that of his fellow gay-themed 2011 movie Beauty, that reverberates so loud for its silence and simplicity that you're inclined to overlook all of the movie's earlier, more pedestrian qualities.

Early on, it feels as though Hermanus is hacking a raw path through largely unexplored historical and cultural terrain for his country, though that subsides in favour of a prosaic, though effective, critique on white heterosexual masculinity. For all its blatant, welcome empathy, Moffie here hacks through nothing at all - it strides casually through terrain explored at great lengths by other artists, and the lack of creative tension deprives it of its potential impact. Only when it can free itself from the allure of such safe, solid, mildly unsatisfactory material does Hermanus' subtle daring as a filmmaker avail of the opportunity to assert itself, and to magnificent effect. Tech specs are strong, particularly Braam du Toit's score, and performances all excellent, though no-one stands out above the rest.

Mina Farid and Zahia Dehar in Rebecca Zlotowski's An Easy Girl
Mina Farid and Zahia Dehar in An Easy Girl

Who can blame Rebecca Zlotowski for having a little fun? She reached for the stars and all the planets around them with 2016's Planetarium, to the derision of her critics. Her response to the drubbing is a cheekily provocative one, indulging in her slightest, easiest, most commercial work to date, albeit one with a force of almighty controversy at its centre. An Easy Girl is a gentle, perceptive, brief coming-of-age drama, a sun-drenched, sexy modern French romp that's entirely Zlotowski, and entirely less ambitious than everything else she's put out to date. Good for her! She's having fun, and so are we - this is a lovely little movie, blithely dispensing with all pretension to hone in on the emotions in its burgeoning heart, and looking delicious while doing so!

And then there's Zahia Dehar. Alors, Zahia! Zlotowski casting the infamous French-Algerian tabloid star in her first real role is, naturally, a stunt of a most salacious nature, but it also supplies An Easy Girl with a new angle from which to approach it. What might otherwise have sufficed itself to be just another coming-of-age movie now becomes a rare chance to take a real look behind the celebrity facade, ironically exposing Dehar more than ever before via the medium of fictional filmmaking. Zlotowski is not above the odd quasi-judgemental nudge toward any of her characters, but doing so gives each of them a distinctly realistic hue, and if anything only accentuates the compassion that radiates from this sweet movie.

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