Movie Review: Skoonheid ***
Earlier this year, South African film director Oliver Hermanus scored a double first with his film Skoonheid.
It was the first South African film in Afrikaans accepted by the Cannes Film Festival for screening in the "Un Certain Regard" category.
It was also selected for screening in a relatively new category at Cannes: the "Queer Palm" only screens films that deal with gay and lesbians issues.
The award was instituted for the first time in 2010 and this year Skoonheid won top honours. The film opens in South Africa in a limited release and it is bound to create considerable debate.
It tells the story of François (Deon Lotz) who lives in a typical South African town, with a wife and family. He runs a factory, goes to church and lives a fairly humdrum suburban life.
But there is another side to François. He frequently has sex with other men. In this small community there is a group of men who meet in a farmhouse out of town, where they have sex with each other.
There is no suggestion of love or affection in this situation. All the men maintain a heterosexual image within their community. Their homosexual encounters are well concealed and they share a conspiracy of silence.
Then François meets Christian (Charlie Keegan), a handsome, youthful student. Francois falls catastrophically in love with this boy and when he sees Christian paying attention to his daughter, his response angers and frightens him.
There is no one to whom he can talk, and his repressed emotions and desires cannot be concealed. Slowly this church-going husband and father loses control, and a situation evolves that cannot possibly come to a good ending.
Hermanus deliberately keeps the film's pace slow and meticulous. It is as if the world that François knows is slowing down to a suffocating stop, and every step he takes propels him further into self-destruction.
Lotz gives a powerful performance in a slow, measured film that compels the audience to confront extreme life situations.
- Skoonheid will be screened on the Ster-Select Cinema circuit from August 5.