Beauty *** (out of five)
Beauty, the second feature from South African writer-director Oliver Hermanus, is very dark. Essentially a very intense, very naturalistic character study, the film focuses on Francois (Deon Lutz), a conservative, Afrikaans married man who harbors major sexual inclinations towards men. When he falls into an obsession over his good-looking nephew, his life – barely happy anyway – gets really, sadly pathetic.
Like Death in Venice, this is a gay male obsession story, and like that film, it is told with no levity, no lightness of touch. It feels out of place and time – almost a film about a gay predator, and as such almost an offensive throwback. What saves it are its context and its style. That Francois is a leftover racist from the Apartheid era gives the film political weight (what was an Apartheid-approving homosexual-in-denial to do?) and it is amazingly well shot, acted, and scripted. Although told slowly, it’s a gripping tale. Sexual predators have featured in many films, and sometimes they’re the leads. That’s the case here, and the viewer has the right to ask why they care. I think the film is actually about the left-overs of South Africa – those who loved Apartheid, and can’t deal with its dissolution. As such, it’s an incredibly sad movie. It also happens to be a very well made one – but that doesn’t make it necessarily worth your while.