Q-Fest Preview: Beauty
Last year, Beauty was submitted as South Africa’s entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards. It’s easy to see why, as Oliver Hermanus, wearing the hats of both director and writer, utilizes a lingering camera and the ample talents of actor Deon Lotz to bring to light the inner struggle of Francois, a lumber salesman based out of Bloemfontein, South Africa.
In connecting with an old friend at a wedding, Francois becomes infatuated with his friend’s son, Christian, played by Charlie Keegan. Rather than pushing the narrative forward with dialogue and tense hand-held shots of strained faces and emotional outbursts, Hermanus sets the camera back and allows the viewer to observe as Francois, a married man with a daughter and a wife, tries to reconcile his feelings with the life he has established. Deon Lotz brings angst and humanity to Francois, adding depth and sympathy to a character that sometimes acts deplorably.
A product of his Apartheid upbringing in South Africa, Francois has been endowed with a warped sense of self. He makes mention of “coloureds” being a problem and that “faggots” are not to be tolerated. Rather than a tearful coming-out to his unsuspecting family, Francois chooses to keep his feelings in check, with clandestine meetings with other men in country farmhouses.
The lazy pace feeds the tension, as obsession turns Francois into a single-minded predator, stalking his prey across the country. Ben Ludik softens the movie with a gentle minimalist score while the sound design emphasizes natural sounds (the crashing of waves, the buzz of insects, the hum of traffic), hinting that Francois’ mask is slipping. An especially tense scene has an unraveling Francois calling the cops on his own daughter, who has escaped with the family car for a weekend of frivolity.
The film is difficult to watch at times, but it’s a welcome diversion from summer blockbuster popcorn flicks boiled down to the essentials for the masses. Just as Francois must contemplate his own life choices and how to reconcile his inner self with the man he seems to be, the viewer is asked to observe what is happening onscreen and come to his or her own conclusions. Skoonheid, as it’s called in its native Afrikaans, will be screened at the Museum of Fine Arts this Friday at 7PM.
Beauty is written and directed by Oliver Hermanus and stars Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, and Roeline Daneel. 2011, 105 min, color, 35mm, in Afrikaans and English with English subtitles. Distributed in the USA by TLA Releasing.
[Beauty screens Friday, July 27th, at 7PM at the MFAH, as part of Q-Fest, the GLBTQ Film Festival of Houston. Special ticket price: $10 general admission, $8 students, seniors, MFAH and Q-Fest members.]