Tuesday, February 11, 2014

From South Africa, Oliver Hermanus' ugly BEAUTY indicts a culture and a country....

A few days ago we covered the documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing; today we're doing a movie called simply BEAUTY (Skoon-heid) -- a much darker and troubling affair about how beauty and the craving for it can be lethal -- involving two South African families, the parents and their just-turning-adult children. In the excellent first scene of the film, taking place at a wedding reception, the father of one of those families notices the son of the other (perhaps for the first time as an adult), and the beauty of the young man rivets him. To all outwards appearances, this father is a straight-arrow, macho sort, but it is not long before we view a scene in which, by any standard except that of a supremely deluded mind, the fellow is at very least bi-sexual and most probably gay as a goose. Oh, but he's still super-macho, so that's just A-OK.

With Beauty, Oliver Hermanus (shown at left), the film's director and co-writer (with Didier Costet) indicts the entitled-white-male, post-Apartheid culture of South Africa that seems to dearly long for those days gone by. Our non-hero François van Heerden (memorably played by Deon Lotz, below, left), quickly becomes so obsessed with his friend's son, Christian (played by the very attractive Charlie Keegan, below, right), that he can think about and follow little else. He arranges to visit Christian's family, and begins to follow the young man, soon becoming a kind of hidden stalker, who then discovers a surprising connection between the two families.

What happens from there on in is appalling but quite believable. It might seem surprising that a film this good never got a theatrical release here in the USA. Instead it went straight to video via TLA Releasing, and can now be seen on Netflix streaming.

Well, it's not a happy movie, and its look at homosexuality, in this case, is anything but a healthy or positive one. Instead it shows us what a weirdly closeted man can feel and do, once his deepest needs come surging forth. So it wouldn't pack in the usual gay crowd looking to be entertained and shown in a positive light.

No matter. Beauty is eminently worth seeing and thinking about. Nominated for an Un Certain regard award at the 2011 Cannes Film fest, it won the Queer Palm there that year, as well as Best Film at the Durban International Film Fest.

The acting by all is commendable (Mr. Lotz is unforgettable), the direction sure, and the writing -- subtle and spare -- manages to pack a real punch, while delineating character surprisingly well. Apartheid may have officially ended, but as films like this one and Disgrace clearly show us, its effects are long-term and far-reaching.

Beauty is available now via Netflix, but nowhere else that  I can so far ascertain.

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