Skoonheid: Cannes 2011 Review

South African drama is a one-trick pony that trots slowly to the finish line.

Oliver Hermanus’ film is a plodding South African drama that feels like a short stretched into a feature

CANNES -- A closeted homosexual has the hots for his brawny nephew in Skoonheid, a plodding South African drama that feels like a short film stretched into a feature, and fails to find its rhythm despite a decent lead turn from Deon Lotz. Basically a one-idea, one-plot-point movie that tries to provide grandeur via ineffective widescreen cinematography, writer-director Oliver Hermanus’ slim exploration of repressed desire and sexual angst will be of most interest to LGBT fests and distribs.

The title, which means “beauty” in Afrikaans (Skoonheid is the first film partially shot in that language to play Cannes’ Official Selection), is perhaps meant to sum up the way unhappily married timber supplier, Francois (Lotz), views other men, and especially his sometime model/actor nephew, Christian (Charlie Keegan). From the opening scene, in which Francois spends his daughter’s wedding staring hungrily across the room at Christian, there’s no doubt what’s on his mind, and his sexual preference is soon confirmed during a rather unattractive orgy sequence set in a grim country farmhouse.

Francois begins to keep tabs on Christian, eventually traveling from the drab city of Blomfonteim to Cape Town, where the young man studies law when he’s not showcasing his pecs on the beach. At that point, the script (co-written with producer Didier Costet) takes a disturbing turn that, given what preceded it, one could see coming from miles away, and the lack of subtlety in this extremely blunt scenario prevents it from digging deeper to find any underlying emotion.

The drama’s effectiveness is further impeded by the choice to shoot in the Scope format, which takes away from our intimacy with Francois, whose face often appears in odd close-ups, his hairline cropped off at the top. The static use of widescreen by Jamie Ramsay (who shot sections of District 9) winds up slowing down the general rhythm of each scene, and though Lotz has a strong screen presence, it’s not enough to make Skoonheid the parable on stilted South African machismo that it was surely meant to be.


Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Official Selection (Un Certain Regard)

Sales: MK2
Production companies: Equation, in association with Moonlighting Films
Cast: Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Michelle Scott, Albert Maritz, Sue Diepeveen, Roeline Daneel
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Screenwriters: Oliver Hermanus, Didier Costet
Producer: Didier Costet
Director of photography: Jamie Ramsay
Production designer: J. Franz Lewis
Costume designer: Reza Levy
Editor: George Hanmer
Music: Ben Ludik
No rating, 105 minutes