Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Stars: Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan.
Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Beauty is a powerful, challenging and confronting drama about passion, repression and infatuation. Winner of the Queer Palm award at Cannes, Beauty is a disturbing and provocative examination of one man’s damaging self-hatred, and it draws parallels with the complex political situation in South Africa itself, a country still coming to terms with turbulent changes in its social structure.
Francois van Heerden (Deon Lotz) is a respectable, middle-aged businessman in Bloemfontein, in South Africa, who is leading a closeted life. While married with two children, Francois also secretly meets with a group of men in a remote farmhouse to indulge in gay sex orgies. No blacks or faggots allowed. But he becomes obsessed with the handsome young Christian (Charlie Keegan, who has done a lot of television work) and his desire has dark and disturbing consequences.
Writer/director Oliver Hermanus and cinematographer Jamie Ramsay use a wonderful visual style – lots of natural lighting, the camera remains steady and characters often walk in or out of the frame, and there are scenes where we see characters talking but cannot hear what they are saying.
The central character here is not as likeable or instantly as sympathetic as the protagonist of Hermanus’s last film Shirley Adams. Lotz brings a quite intensity and subdued anger to his performance as the conflicted Francois, a flawed and complex man who tries to keep his double life a secret but who slowly begins to crack under the stress and pressure of maintaining a lie. This is a largely internal performance, and the camera often focuses on Lotz’s face in close up, which reveals his inner struggle and the darkness beneath the surface. In his first feature film role Keegan is also very good as the object of Francois’ obsession.
The film’s ending leaves much unresolved, which may frustrate many, but the final shot is also symbolic of a life spiralling out of control. The title is quite ironic as there is a lot of brutality and ugliness in the world explored through Hermanus’ probing lens.