'Beauty' (translated from the Afrikaans title 'Skoonheid') found favour at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where it was featured in the Un Certain Regard official selection, while also winning the dubiously titled Queer Palm. Writer-director Oliver Hermanus explores homosexuality and homophobia, arguably paralleling South Africa's internal struggles. Unfortunately, the manner in which he chooses do conduct his examination is often trying.
Francois (Deon Lotz) is outwardly an average suburban male - wife, house, steady job. Yet from the outset, his sinister undertones are implied - the opening scene sees Francois eye up the heterosexual Christian (Charlie Keegan), son of a long lost friend. Soon we discover Francois engaging in all-male orgies at a country farmhouse, while displaying a thinly veiled disgust for "faggots". Francois finds himself obsessed with Christian, battling his own emotions and identity, and succumbing to his disturbing lust.
'Beauty' is equally disturbingly slow-paced. Unnecessarily so also, as we rarely see nuance from Francois, regardless (or perhaps in spite of) Deon Lotz's compelling performance. His character becomes almost entirely single-minded, and rather difficult to empathise with. Misplaced moments occur throughout, the most vivid of which involves the unintentional hilarity of Francois standing amid a hedge, voyeuristically spying on Christian's oiled up body.
The juxtaposition of language between English and Afrikaans is one of the intriguing highlights of 'Beauty' - the free manner in which the film's characters converse and traverse between the two language seems oddly liberating in a film so stringently focussed on binary attitudes. Disappointingly, the final feeling is one of relief rather than satisfication, somewhat in contrast to the film's own fateful resolution. Less 'Beauty', and more Anguish, Struggle, and Boredom.
'Beauty' is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20 April, through Peccadillo Pictures.