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Beauty is a drama set in South Africa and tells the story of a straight middle-aged man, Francois, who is married to his wife Elena but develops an obsession with an old friend’s son, Christian, which spirals out of control.
Beautifully shot by Jamie Ramsey and confidently directed by Oliver Hermanus, Beauty is a dark tale of depravity and deception, and is incredibly uncomfortable to watch at times, with the film teetering precariously on the levels of acceptability.
Francois, solemnly played by Deon Lutz, tackles a highly controversial role as a man who is devoid of emotion and has no care for anyone around him, including himself. Throwing himself into a den of inequity where bigoted straight men have sex with each other, but where gays are not allowed, he drifts through life mechanically.
However, when he spots Christian (handsome Charlie Keegan) at his daughter’s wedding, Francois becomes obsessed with the teenager, and as the film progresses Francois’ actions become more and more erratic, culminating in a destructive scene that should hold dire consequences for his callous and predatorial ways.
There are some major issues with Beauty. Like Francois, the film meanders with no real direction. Long lingering looks are set against long lingering shots, rendering the film perpetually stuck in first gear, only revving up to third gear three quarters of the way through before quietly and unapologetically sloping off back down to first gear. It also leaves too many questions unanswered, and has a highly unsatisfactory ending that will have viewers feeling cheated.
Beauty has won critical acclaim across the world and has won several awards, including the Queer Palm at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Some people will love its hard-hitting storyline and brutal handling of a subject that is far from beautiful, while others will just consider it to be a vile and laborious piece of work that leaves them wishing they could have the last 99 minutes of their life back.
Beauty is out now and is released by Peccadillo Pictures.
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