Sunday, 3 June 2012


They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Francois (Deon Lotz) can't take his eyes off of Christian (Charlie Keegan). The son of a long time friend, Christian re-enters Francois's life at the wedding of the middle-aged timber merchant's eldest daughter, and unbeknownst to the handsome young man, sets his secret admirer on a self-destructive path.

Winner of the Queer Palm at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, I was highly anticipating Oliver Hermanus's second feature. But the South African film, spoken mostly in Afrikaans, was, for me, a disappointment.

At just 99 minutes there are far too many unnecessarily long takes which could be euphemistically described as 'meditative' or producing a slow burn, but which felt more like padding to me. Designed to put us in the mind of Francois, a man whose secret desires make him a voyeur, we see from his vantage point but we don't get inside the man's head.

And as solid as Lotz's performance is, as a man firmly entrenched in the closet but living a secret life very much on the down low, his actions, which arguably inevitable, ultimately turn Francois from a tragic victim of circumstance to an irredeemable villain.

All empathy for the man disappears when, three-quarters into the film, he finally transgresses; acting out on his attraction to Christian in the film's (and one of cinema 2012's) most shocking moments.

Beauty would make an excellent companion piece to the 2011 Michael Fassbender film, Shame; the two films concerned with men who are victims to their sexual natures. But where Fassbender's character had ready access to an "outlet" for his urges, Francois is considerably more limited, by culture, geography and himself.

That isolation should enforce the tragedy but Francois's actions undermine it. I was shaken by Beauty but I wasn't moved.

Beauty (distributed by Palace Films) opens in Australian cinemas August 2. Director Oliver Hermanus will be in conversation with Australian director Tomy Krawitz (Official Competition film, Dead Europe) at the SFF Hub @ Lower Town Hall on Monday June 11, 6pm-7.30pm .

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