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Several South African men meet in a remote farmhouse near Pretoria. They make small talk over beer until one arrives with a black gay man. The couple are unceremoniously sent packing – no coloureds, no faggots – after which the remaining men split, take a room and have urgent, mechanical sex. Among them is burly, middle-aged Francois (Deon Lotz), a married man who isn't gay but prefers sex with men.

This telling scene occurs a short distance in to Oliver Hermanus' remarkable film that charts the inevitable tragedy of a button-downed life and pent-up emotion. The director collected a Queer Palm at Cannes for this scorching drama distinguished by its overwhelming sense of reality. This is as far from any Glee-inspired depiction of homosexuality as you could imagine.

Francois' life grows infinitely more complicated when he takes a shine to his good looking nephew Christian (Charlie Keegan), picturing a poorly realised, wife-replacing relationship. Not only is it beyond Francois' experience, it's beyond straight Christian's imagining. Expectations sour on a visit to Cape Town when an opportunity for uncle-nephew bonding proves not to be the exit-clause Francois had been hoping for.

It is Hermanus' progressive enthusiasm to explore a different version of gay life that gives Beauty its incredible power. Through Francois, we take a journey into a world unknown in cinema, unknown to most; a journey that is bolstered by Lotz's gravity. A household name in South Africa, his formidable presence anchors the film in a hunkered reality without tipping into more obvious or clichéd emotion.

Despite the odds, Beauty is a rare treat that's compelling, terrifying, heart-breaking, nauseating and fascinating at the same time. This is not an easy watch, unless scenes of brutal rape are in any way appealing. It is a film that expresses with honesty and candour the torment with which many men wrestle. You wont' find any Glee-gays here.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks


Deon Lotz
Charlie Keegan
Roeline Daneel
Sue Diepeveen

Oliver Hermanus

Oliver Hermanus

South Africa (subtitles)

R18 / 105 minutes

August 2, 2012
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