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South Africa 2012
Directed by
Oliver Hermanus
105 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Beauty is an impressively-made film but not one from which a lot of people are going to get much pleasure. The second feature from the young South African director Oliver Hermanus, it is a trenchant portrait of the deadly conflict between eros and civilization.

François (Deon Lotz) is a successful, middle-aged businessman who leads a double life. Outwardly solidly conventional but with anger management issues exacerbated by alcohol he is distant with his wife and grown-up daughter and harbours a dark secret. When he encounters the grown-up son (Charlie Keegan) of an old friend his desire for the young man eats away at his barely controlled composure until he is no longer able to maintain the veneer of rationality.

The absence of the usual cinematic pleasures stem from both the form and content of Hermanus’s film. Formally, the director purposefully eschews any anodyne enhancement of the banal everydayness of his story whilst the title of the film appears to be ironically meant. The brutal climax, the elliptical plotting, the absence of any narrative explication imbue the film with a point of view that is admirably truthful but also shocking to our conventional film-going expectations.  There is little dialogue and Hermanus holds his takes for what borders on an excruciatingly long time, the camera simply observing events, albeit with a sense of foreboding.

As the camera’s focal point Deon Lotz is quite splendid in bearing this scrutiny although Hermanus makes him a wholly unappealing character whose existential alienation is very much of his own choosing. In this respect it would seem that the director is also is painting a sombre picture of post-apartheid white South Africa as a social stratum still bearing the stamp of a supremacist mentality, at least in the older generation. As such, no doubt it would resonate more deeply with a domestic audience but for anyone interested in purposefully confronting film-making it will not disappoint.

Available from: Madman




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