What I like about a film is its power to make me feel something I wouldn’t usually feel. Beauty hit me in a place a lot of films haven’t before, and while maybe it wasn’t a nice happy feeling, it affected me for days after, and that’s a rare thing.
A film set in South Africa, spoken in Afrikaans splattered with English, it is the story of aging, repressed sexuality festering in the combines of an underlying wave of racism in a country still trying to find its feet. The older hardy whites of South Africa still bear the shavings of racism their Dutch forefathers harboured in their hostile takeover and some still band together, believing the black resurgence nothing more than the country “going to the dogs”. Franciose (Deon Lotz) is a middle aged man, running a successful sawmill, in a rather unhappy marriage. He is also part of a club of men that gets together once in a while in a secluded house for a good old fashioned orgy, but rest assured; they’re “not fags”. Francoise meets and becomes dangerously smitten with a friend’s young son, Christian (Charlie Keegan). The film hypnotically follows this infatuation from the first lusty glance at a party, to the final crushing pinnacle of obsession.
From the stunning opening scene, the film has you hooked till the last. Long, drawn out shots take their time lingering over small details, but those small details are what gives this film its beauty. It is these small moments that have you transfixed. There is one stressful scene at a beach, it concludes with a painfully extensive shot that holds on Francoise siting in a car composing himself. The shot holds on him till his breath returns to normal and his sweat subsides. Scenes like this are so personal, so intimate, it makes you feel so involved and awkward – the power of film. You become very close to Francoise throughout the film, which is a beautiful irony, because we are probably closer than anyone has ever been to him. You go along with him, this psychologically fractured mess of a man, not because he is pleasant company, but because you feel something for him, even considering the horror unfolding toward the end, the feeling resembles something like pity. He is this way because this is how he grew up; he is the unfortunate product of a fractured country, still trying to piece itself together.
There is a scene toward the end, which is pretty infamous, which I want to talk about, so if you’re not into spoilers stop reading.
As far as rape scenes go, this is one of the most brutal I have ever seen. Not because of the violence, but because it felt so darn real, and the lingering shot of the victim rising from the bed afterwards hit me pretty hard. Rape is a pretty fucked up thing, and this scene made me feel ill, which is how it should make you feel. I work in a cinema and a lot of people are walking out, angry they were subjected to it, some blaming me for recommending the film. Some even angry because we didn’t advertise that it contained gay rape. There have been two different Girl with a Dragon Tattoo films over the last three years and together they had multiple rape scenes – and they were pretty nasty – but no one said a peep and there were thousands more seeing that film than Beauty. I’m not sure who should be more offended – the gays or the women – in that people would rather see a woman get raped than a young gay man. I would like to think people are more affected by the raw nature of the scene, than the fact it’s between two men, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Violence is hard to watch, and the fact that we are becoming desensitised to rape is a horrible thought. That people are finding it hard to watch a man beat up and rape another man is, I think, a good thing. It’s one step closer to curing this ridiculous homophobic plague. Who knows, maybe I’m just ranting. Ho hum.
There is something important about this film, it has something to say about the lingering undercurrent of hatred and oppression in South Africa, and more to say about the nature of humans and emotions that I think it means to. It’s a rare film, and even though it might be hard to watch and you will feel out of whack for a few days after, it will make you feel something, and that deserves to be applauded.
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Was Christian supposed to be gay?