out of Five
Running time: 98
Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a haunting, shocking and emotionally powerful drama with a terrific central performance from Deon Lotz.
What's it all about?
Directed by Oliver Hermanus, Beauty (or Skoonheid, original title fans) is set in present-day Bloemfontein, South Africa and stars Deon Lotz as Francois, a middle-aged, stocky, balding Afrikaans husband and father who occasionally drives out to a remote farmhouse to indulge in gay sex and porn orgies with other similarly closeted (while remaining vehemently racist and homophobic) middle-aged men. While attending his oldest daughter's wedding, Francois takes an interest in Christian (Charlie Keegan), the grown-up son of family friends, who, in turn, takes an interest in Francois' other daughter, Anika (Roeline Daneel).
Over the ensuing few days, Francois develops an unhealthy obsession with Christian, driving to Cape Town to visit his parents (knowing that Christian will be there) and even spying on him at his university campus. But when Francois discovers that Christian and Anika have begun seeing each other, his obsession spirals dangerously out of control.
Deon Lotz is terrific, delivering a compelling performance that perfectly conveys Francois' unspoken frustrations and desires and is utterly riveting to watch. Keegan is equally good as Christian and there's solid support from Roeline Daneel and Michelle Scott as Francois' wife, Elena.
Hermanus' direction (aided by exceptional camerawork from cinematographer Jamie Ramsay) is extremely assured throughout, adopting an almost Dardenne-like approach that allows us to get inside Francois' head (there's a strong emphasis on stolen glances and longing looks), which in turn allows us a strong degree of sympathy for the character even when events later take a shocking turn.
The script is excellent, presenting a fascinating, complex character study that's simultaneously informed and restricted by the surrounding culture (without descending into moralising) whilst also painting a powerful portrait of obsession. It's also extraordinarily suspenseful throughout, with Hermanus expertly building tension as Francois' fixation spirals out of control; the scene where he discovers Christian and Anika together is brilliantly directed, to the point where you immediately feel Francois' emotional reaction and fear for what will happen next.
Beauty is an impressively directed, superbly written and powerfully acted drama that's by turns haunting, shocking and ultimately heartbreaking. Highly recommended.