Today: February 28, 2024

Beauty

Don’t be fooled by the title of this South African independent film, which featured at Cannes last year; there’s nothing particularly beautiful about its slow, brooding and ultimately disturbing central story.

Don’t be fooled by the title of this South African
independent film, which featured at Cannes last year; there’s nothing
particularly beautiful about its slow, brooding and ultimately disturbing
central story.
Beauty, the second
feature written and directed by Oliver
Hermanus
, tracks middle aged man, Francois (Deon Lotz), and his obsession with his young and extremely
attractive – perhaps who the title is referencing – nephew, Christian (model Charlie Keegan).

We’re first introduced to
Christian in the opening scene of the film through the
voyeuristic eyes of Francois at a family engagement party. Christian is the
antithesis of Francois – comfortable in his own skin and around others, young,
beautiful and full of charisma, with the world at his feet. Francois on the
other hand is tall, physically intimidating, awkward around others, perhaps
because of his continual internal wrangling with his sexual desires for men but
hatred of gays, his refusal to adapt to a modern South Africa – he is a racist
– and his unhappy domestic life, where he fails to connect with his wife or
control his daughter.

It’s a sorry state of
affairs for Francois but, despite events being seen predominantly from his voyeuristic
point of view it is impossible to feel anything but dislike and, later in the
film, repulsion for him which makes for an extremely uncomfortable watch.

Francois satisfies his
true lust by meeting with several other ‘straight’ middle-aged men at a house
for an orgy. One man brings an athletic black man who is soon ejected from the
house for being both black and a ‘fag’ which might raise suspicions with the
neighbours. What follows is a
particularly explicit scene of ugly sex, belly hangovers and acres of body
hair.

Not content with the odd
orgy however, Francois pursues his obsession with Christian by making an excuse
to visit his family, lying to his wife in the meantime. He even buys Christian
an iPod in what are cringe-inducing, watch through your fingers scenes that can
only end in disaster – as it does. The climax to this infatuation is both entirely surprising
and completely shocking and brutal; it will leave you literally cold.

It
is doubtful anyone will watch Beauty and come out feeling anything but uneasy.
It’s not a bad thing that a film should make you cringe or uncomfortable but,
watching Francois, a man who is so utterly repulsive in such an ordinary way,
for 103 interminable minutes feels like a bad investment. We don’t understand him any more at the
end of the film than we did at the beginning, yet we’ve spent much of the time
looking through his eyes. There’s
no payoff from this film, which makes it hard to recommend. Despite good
central performances from both Keegan and Lotz, Beauty offers little in the way
of redemption, insight or pleasure; instead you’ll likely leave the cinema
feeling a little bit sullied and in need of a stiff drink.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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