DVD Review - Beauty (Skoonheid)

Skoonheid was South Africa's official submission for the 84th Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film. It didn't make the shortlist, and I think I agree with that. However, it did win the Queer Palm Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, which may be a reflection of that year's lack of gay films. It got a theatrical release in the United Kingdom where critics gave it generally good reviews. Yet, Adam Ross, an online film critic, strongly disapproves of the movie and I can see his points.

Dean Lotz stars as Francois van Heerden, the owner of a lumbering company in South Africa. Francois is in his forties and is married with a daughter in her twenties. Out of nowhere, Francois who is partially racist starts to stalk Christian, played by Charlie Keegan. Christian used to do some modeling but now he's studying to be a lawyer. Christian is the son of Francois' best friend. Christian offers his services to Francois, but Francois admires Christian not for his knowledge of the law but rather his beautiful looks and overall sexiness, despite being the same age as his daughter.

In Ross' review, he stresses that Francois is not in love with Christian. Francois merely wants to have sex with him. There is no definitive answer over Christian's sexual orientation. Yet, it's clear that Christian does NOT want to have sex with Francois. Therefore, Francois becomes obsessed and, as Ross writes, Francois also becomes "dangerous" and "predatory." In this regard, filmmaker Oliver Hermanus makes Francois a gay stereotype, a negative stereotype that gay people have fought against for decades.

For that reason alone, I would almost dismiss this film as bad, not from a technical standpoint but a moral one. Yet, Hermanus' skill in terms of his visuals and editing indicate that Hermanus understands the craft of filmmaking and the craft of good storytelling. The characters in the story being told is a character whom you can't like. The protagonist is disturbing and disgusting, but if the craft is good, can a movie simply be bad because the main character is a bad guy?

Downfall (2004) was nominated for an Oscar in the same category for which this film tried and Downfall had Adolf Hitler as its main character, not in a comedic way or in a way that depicts him as pure evil. Not only did it get an Oscar nod, but it scored a 91-percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so it's not a direct relationship. If the character is himself horrible or does horrible things or places a certain group of people in a negative light, that doesn't necessarily mean the movie is one to avoid.

The recent example that's comparable is Michael (2012) by Markus Schleinzer. That movie made its protagonist a pedophile who kidnaps a little boy and holds him hostage. I appreciate that movie despite despising the main character. For Skoonheid, I have to do the same. My only proviso is that even though it's about an older gay man who preys upon a younger straight man, this is not indicative of how all gay men are. The final few minutes of this movie make that point.

The point also has to be made that simply because the filmmaker puts the audience in the point-of-view of the predator, it doesn't mean that the filmmaker is glorifying or approves of his character's actions. What hurts the movie is that one can argue that because Hermanus never gives us any kind of repercussions for Francois' actions, then what is the audience supposed to take away?

Not knowing the filmmaker's message is a minor quibble for me because the takeaway could again be the craft on display here. Hermanus opens his film with a 4-minute, continuous one-shot that is simple but perfectly sets up the movie's central conceit. Hermanus is great in showing isolation, the isolation of Francois and his ability to isolate others. This includes shots of characters at a distance where you're not privy to the audio of their conversations.

Yet, the big takeaway, which most critics have noted, is the performance of Deon Lotz who is pretty incredible. It's a portrayal that at times makes you feel pity and at times terror. Often, Lotz gets you to feel both those things at the same time. I know that the fight is completely staged but the strength and the determination that Lotz displays at the end that seems to realistically overpower a muscular young man half his age is devastating yet awesome.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains graphic nudity and intense sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.


Popular Posts