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By Daniel Lammin
11th June 2012

It seems fitting that ‘Beauty’ (‘Skoonheid’), the second feature from South African director Oliver Hermanus, should arrive on the heels of Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’. Both films tread uncomfortable territory concerned with sex and sexual desire, with male protagonists hurtling towards a terrible reckoning. However, where ‘Shame’ was delicate and emotionally charged, ‘Beauty’ takes a very different approach, the final result being something even more shocking and unnerving.

François (Deon Lotz) is a successful 41-year-old family man. He has two beautiful daughters, a devoted wife and a prosperous timber business. As far as everyone is concerned, he is the definition of what a stable man should be - which of course means that François is hiding something. Behind the facade is a carefully controlled alternate life, feeding the sexual desires he has tried to keep hidden. However, when he reconnects with an old friend and meets their handsome son Christian (Charlie Keegan), his secret begins to spin out of control in unexpected and violent ways.


‘Beauty’ is not an easy film to watch. From the first frame, it unfolds with an unsettling precision, a magnificent and unnerving point-of-view shot, François glancing over a wedding party before landing voyeuristically on Christian. Everything about Hermanus’ film is deliberate and careful. The camera moves slowly and methodically, framed so as to only show us what the director wants us to see. There are no tricks, no examples of filmmaking bravado, which only works in its favour. In a similar vein to Tom Ford’s control of colour in ‘A Single Man’ (2009), the visual tone of the film is consistently manipulated, from the dreariness of François’ family home, the festering of his self-loathing and the radiance of Christian’s presence. The screenplay is just as impressive, brimming with subtext, playing its cards very close to its chest. Nothing is given over easily, and the audience is made to work for their resolution.

Central to the film’s success is Deon Lotz’ performance as François. Everything about his work is beautifully restrained, but retrained with that sense of an intense bubbling under the surface. There is nothing extraordinary about François, neither handsome nor ugly, charming nor unappealing, and because of this, he seems unpredictable and dangerous, especially when around Christian. Every move he makes in the film brims with inevitability, his destination as certain as a character in a Greek tragedy. Charlie Keegan is perfect casting as the object of his desires, youthful and ruggedly charming. Hermanus places him at the centre of every shot he is in the film, both with the camera and his strong masculine beauty. The audience is tricked into being as enamored of Christian as François, putting us in the perfect position for the depths the film plunges.

Everything about Lotz’ work is beautifully restrained, but retrained with that sense of an intense bubbling under the surface.

As we carefully tiptoe towards the end, that pervading feeling of dread builds to a graphic and upsetting climax that is both shockingly violent and painfully inevitable. It borders on unwatchable, but rather than being gratuitous, it feels an entirely necessary conclusion to François’ story. To say anymore would be to give too much away, but be aware that there are moments in ‘Beauty’ that are not easy to digest. While ‘Shame’ played its upsetting moments consistently, ‘Beauty’ has only a few, but their effect is significant. The final moments of the film tie everything up exquisitely, a moment of reflection for this man stuck with a lie he can’t shake off, ultimately leaving us with some semblance of a positive note.

‘Beauty’ is definitely not the kind of film one would expect to see coming out of South Africa. It is a daring and uncompromising work, confirming the skills of this young writer-director and his accomplished male leads, and posing serious questions about masculinity, sexuality and desire. It isn’t an easy film to take in, and very confronting at points, but if this is something you can handle, there is much to marvel at. You certainly won’t be forgetting it in a hurry.

RELEASE DATE: 02/08/2012
RUN TIME: 1h 39m
CAST: Charlie Keegan
Deon Lotz
Michelle Scott
Albert Maritz
Roeline Daneel
Sue Diepeveen
Marion Holm
Jeroen Kranenburg
Leon Kruger
Elsie Potgieter
DIRECTOR: Oliver Hermanus
WRITERS: Oliver Hermanus
Didier Costet
PRODUCER: Didier Costet
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