Skoonheid / Beauty (2011)

François van Heerden: "I need to go to Cape Town for business. Tomorrow, maybe."
By Oliver Hermanus
With Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan and Michelle Scott

The other day while I was watching Animal Kingdom (2010) I realized I had seen very few Australian movies. I then thought of other English-speaking countries and if I had seen movies from there. The one that seemed to miss was South Africa, discounting Invictus (2009) because while it was set in South Africa the actors nor the director was South African. I then realized that I had seen The World Unseen (2007) but as it was dealing with the Indian community, it wasn't exactly entirely South African either. I decided to investigate  for more films on my dear Wikipedia, after opening a few, the one that struck me was Skoonheid. First of all, the topic seemed up my alley, but it was also selected as South Africa's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards. The irony is that I had started this thinking of English language movies, but this one was mostly in Afrikaans. I do not mind of course, but it's interesting that I ended up seeing this one. Parts of the movie were in English though.

The film starts at a wedding where we see the father of the bride, François van Heerden, staring at a young man. The young man, Christian Roodt, calls him Uncle François. As we learn more about François' life, we realize that he is leading a double life. Despite appearing homophobic to his family, he goes to meetings in order to have sex with other (white) men. He is also becoming increasingly obsessed with the young man, Christian, as he follows his car before they leave and later on plans a trip to Cape Town, where Christian lives with his family.

Skoonheid is very brutal, in a calm and peaceful way. What makes me say this is the fact that it is filmed in slow, very drawn out shots but this serenity contrasts with the emotional troubles of François and his wife, the issues François faces with himself as well as all the sex scenes that feel very raw, when the camera doesn't move and there is no other sound than flesh pounding noises.

The movie is very open to interpretation, a lot of the consequences of the actions are left untold and it is up to us to determine a possible course of action. The idea that everything is a cycle, that maybe history repeats itself, is very well captured in a symbolic manner. I was disturbed by the character of François, a blunt character who seems to struggle but unable to do anything about it, it is unclear what his goals are and most of the time we are left wondering whether we should feel pity or disgust for him. The actor did a really good job at portraying him and it is really pivotal, because he is not only the main character, but he is in almost every scene. In a way, he reminded me of an older Michael C. Hall in his portrayal of Dexter or David Fisher. I was left with a sentiment of lost potential which had been built up all along, but the movie offers no answers and I felt unable to fill in the potential holes myself, given the tools I had.

I liked: The movie looked beautiful. The club scene. Very raw approach to human beings.

I disliked: Some shots were too drawn out. Widely open to interpretation.

A strong part of the movie is the escalation of desire towards obsession. In this aspect, the movie fulfills all expectations. However, I felt it could have said more.


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