Original title or aka: Skoonheid

Director: OIiver Hermanus.
Starring: Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Michelle Scott, and Roeline Daneel
Distributor: Palace Films
Runtime: 98 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: High impact sexual violence and sex scenes

One should not be distracted by the seeming romanticism of this film’s simple title. The film is a disturbing analysis of destructive obsession. It explores, in confronting fashion, issues that highlight deep societal and personal problems, and two very strong, sexually explicit scenes earn the film’s restricted adult rating.

The film is subtitled, and tells the story of Francois van Heerden (Deon Lotz), a successful, white middle-aged business man, who lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He is a product of Apartheid, and he is isolated from the new South Africa. Church-going, racist, and homophobic, he feels trapped in an unsatisfying relationship with his wife, Elena (Michelle Scott), whom he treats coldly and insensitively.

Francois is attracted sexually to men. The film shows a group of South African men behaving appallingly. They regularly come together to have sex with each other at an isolated farm-house. They reject anyone who is coloured from their midst, and silently conceal what they do, and Francois is a willing participant in the orgies.

At his daughter’s wedding, he meets a good-looking young man, Christian (Charlie Keegan), who is a son of an old friend, and he becomes obsessed. He learns all he can about Christian, who is a friend of his daughter, Anika (Roeline Daneel). In frustration and envy, Francois’ attraction to Christian turns to violence.

The film is an intensely personal character study of Francois. He is immoral, over- controlled, and hates gay men, despite his sexual encounters. He attempts violent rape of Christian in a hotel room just after he tells Christian “it is important to know yourself, and not behave like those scum”. Francois’ highly disciplined life disintegrates in his infatuation. He doesn’t know himself, and he is in turmoil.

Lotz’s performance as Francois is exceptional. He powerfully gives Francois’ obsession with Christian a genuinely tragic dimension. In Lotz’s deeply introspective portrayal, both the good and bad in Francois play out against each other, and in the depiction of Francois’s struggles with repressed desire, a very dark movie emerges about a person who lacks the moral courage to deal with what is happening within him.

Oliver Hermanus superbly directs Lotz as a person, who fears what he also desires. The sombre tone of the film, the shadowy cinematography with its heavy use of long-shots and close-ups, and the measured pace of the film all combine to give the movie a menacing feel. Hermanus wants us to know that Francois’ society represents a culture that is experiencing significant post-apartheid problems, and repressed homosexuality is chosen by him as a focus to convey the lack of acceptance by an old South Africa of new ways of thinking. Some people can change, but Francois, and others like him at the farm-house, won’t, or can’t.

The film depicts the path to self-destruction of an unlikeable man, caught between the constraints of his culture and physical urges he cannot control. It is not a film that celebrates at all what is happening, and the movie conveys much more than one man’s descent into moral depravity. It is a movie that is about a highly conflicted human being, trapped by his anxiety, but anchored tragically to the injustices of his country’s past.

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