Skoonheid made its debut here in Cannes at the Salle Debussy. It’s one of the films competing in the Un Certain Regard section of the fest and that in itself is an achievement. I interviewed director Oliver Hermanus in Cannes last year, when he was here with the Cinefondation and was working on the script in its advanced stage. He is here a year later, with the finished product up on the big screen. Actors Deon Lotz and Charlie Keegan, together with Michelle Scot and co-producer Dylan Voogt as well as director of photography, Jamie Ramsay are here too.
Skoonheid isn’t an easy film to watch. But that is how it has been with most of the films here at Cannes. It’s central character Francois Van Heerden, played with a creepy sinister undertone by Deon Lotz, fits in well among the deeply disturbed characters in many of the other movies here. Speaking to people afterwards, many had the same thing to say: good film, but one needs some time to process afterwards. That’s how I felt too. I needed to take a long deep breath after exiting the theatre. Lotz’s character gets under your skin – his penetrating stares, his skin, even the hair on his arms becomes creepy. But at the same time, part of the creepiness comes from the fact that you feel some empathy towards him. You want to know why he is how he is.
The film starts with a lot of slow languid shots, and at times, I wondered what would become of these. A moment in a house jarrs the audience into the realization that this film isn’t going to just meander along. Francois has a reason for all his lurking and it plays out in a very disturbing way. One of the things I liked is that it references South Africa without being burdened by the issue of being South African, in the sense that it doesn’t feel the need to be dragged under by a story that is specifically South African. It fits easily among the international titles here, and the story, yes, is within the country, but anyone could be Francois.
More thoughts to come, but for now, we should be very proud to have a film in competition in Un Certain Regard, following on from Oliver Schmitz last year, and continue to support the efforts of local filmmakers.