Beauty

Beauty

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

François (Deon Lotz) is a respectable, middle aged South African man with a wife, two lovely daughters, a big house and a thriving lumber business. He's not like those fags. Even the group of other straight men with whom he meets up to have sex has a no fags rule. Life isn't perfect but it's working out. Until he meets Christian (Charlie Keegan), the son of an old friend, and is suddenly overwhelmed by feelings that are about much more than physical desire. Thrown off balance, he begins to stalk the young man, nurturing an obsession that will have terrible consequences.

Passion, repression and destruction are all powerful themes but this film's strength lies in the way it uses them to explore larger issues. François is a complex, well drawn character, warm and generous and often sympathetic despite his prejudices and the dark hints we get about anger problems in his past. When one of his friends is shunned by the community after leaving his wife to move in with a young black woman, François is the only person to stand by him. He clearly longs for the joy of openness that his friend talks about and this, perhaps, is the real beauty in the story, something perpetually out of François' reach. Though he continues to condemn himself with his own decisions, we gradually see how this is the legacy of repressive social circumstances and thwarted ambitions. The shadow of Apartheid hangs heavy over this exploration of a different kind of discrimination.


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These complex ideas are brought out in part through a brilliant script, in part through brilliant direction. Deceptively simple framing hides numerous subtle suggestions. Mirrored behaviour between François and a future sex partner illustrates their unspoken connection; later we see the same parallel created using a mirror while Christian is behind the wall. A red shirt looks pink in the sunlight; an apparent kiss, seen from another angle, is just a hug between friends. We are gradually invited to share in François' delusions, his attempts to convince himself that the object of his desire might reciprocate. Often characters speak from offscreen, François' view increasingly narrow. The big open sky is glimpsed through a doorway; more beauty unattainable.

Lotz is extraordinary in the central role, making us care about this deeply flawed man, even making us pity the thing he becomes. Keegan, meanwhile, delivers the perfect balance of brash, youthful confidence and naif fragility. Both are intensely human throughout. In the end, they keep us watching when we want desperately to turn away, and the film stays with us after the conventional narrative is over, forcing us to ask where it should go from here. It throws up intense moral and emotional challenges and, even in ugliness, finds beauty.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2012
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Winner of the Queer Palm at Cannes 2011, a disturbing and provocative examination of one man's damaging self-hatred.
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Director: Oliver Hermanus

Writer: Oliver Hermanus, Didier Costet

Starring: Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Michelle Scott

Year: 2011

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Africa, France


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