‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is what they say. We all have our ideas of what beauty is and it’s easy to trundle through life believing that we find certain people and certain traits attractive and others not so much.
Most of us feel happy and comfortable acknowledging what we find beautiful. We may feel a little frustrated or disappointed if they’re not available to us, but somehow if we’re able to easily vocalise this desire, it’s relatively easy to move on.
However, what happens when beauty presents itself and it’s something that your value system and your immediate world says is wrong?
Well, then you’d probably avoid telling anyone about it and you’d probably struggle to even admit it to yourself.
In that sort of situation, the appreciation of beauty becomes a poisonous drug which has the potential to quickly consume the beholder until they’re privately obsessing, secretly stalking, and quietly becoming infatuated.
He’s a conservative middle-aged married Afrikaner with two grown-up daughters and he hates gays. That said, he regularly hooks up with fellow married men in a remote farmhouse for sex. Make of that what you will.
As the film’s story develops, a seemingly random assortment of lengthy, virtually eventless, real-time scenarios combine to gradually build up a picture of François. It becomes apparent that his relationship with his wife is not all that passionate. He perhaps has an anger problem as well as a drink problem, but he manages to keep all of this under control well enough.
But all that changes when he meets the handsome Christian (Charlie Keegan) at his daughter’s wedding.
Well actually, he sees him before meeting him. Director Oliver Hermanus presents Christian on screen exactly as François sees him – at a distance. He’s across the room at the wedding reception, frequently obscured by passing party guests. But it’s clear even from afar that he is attractive and it’s also clear from the way the scene is cut that Francois becomes flustered when Christian looks over (check out the clip below).
Viewing Christian in this way forces the viewer to identify with François, which is fine at first, but this balding older man’s interest in the cute young bloke evolves into obsession, and a few stolen stares soon develop into full-on stalking.
And as François’ obsession escalates, we are forced to join him as he spies on Christian interacting with friends, perhaps drawing the same conclusions as he does when he gives a male friend a close hug.
Rapidly this creepy voyeurism shifts from being a little uncomfortable to downright horrific, especially when events take a shocking turn.
The South African setting is significant. François’ world is a very conservative white one. And his is a generation that is uptight, disapproving and rooted in backward values. But, adding a bitter-sweet note towards the end, the film includes a scene featuring two young men kissing in a cafe. The suggestion is that the next generation of South Africans are becoming much more liberal, a positive note, but one that’s no comfort to our deeply troubled protagonist.
Packed with tension and cleverly delivered, this is a brilliant character study, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable viewing. Despite its appealing title, Beauty is a film that will haunt you for a long time.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.
Beauty is released on DVD by Peccadillo Pictures on 8th October