Skoonheid (Beauty), first Afrikaans spoken film in Cannes festival ever

South Africa too is in Cannes! This year's competition includes Skoonheid – trailer here, the first Afrikaans spoken movie selected in the festival's history – and only the 5th South African one. A daring work from the 27 year old director Oliver Hermanus, it competes in "Un certain regard", a category that focuses on films with an "original aim and esthetic". IntoFrench lifts (part of) the veil on the freshest South African prowess.

“Know what you want”

Oliver Hermanus was full of useful advice at the master-class he recently gave to the AFDA film school students in Johannesburg. Among them was one he particularly cherished. If you want to become a director, he kept insisting, then you must first know what you want. Why make a movie? To show what? To convince who? All questions the young South African artist has brilliantly resolved in his own work, first with his highly acclaimed debut movie Shirley Adams – trailer and details here – and now with Skoonheid, a second feature film written in France and produced under the recent South Africa–France co-production treaty. Set in contemporary South Africa, both movies explore socially sensitive topics and display a very personal way of filming.

Through the hard way

Shirley Adams followed the plight of a Cape Flats mother struggling to take care of her teenage son rendered paraplegic by a gang shooting, with the Dardenne brothers as more evident influence than the big shots of Hollywood. It was not possible to see Skoonheid before its Cannes projection but this story of “a white Afrikaans-speaking family man in his mid-forties who suddenly develops a destructive obsession for the son of an old friend” – see picture, full synopsis here – seems to stick with Hermanus anti-conformist approach. To those who argue that his movies are economical nonsense (Shirley Adams earned a pale 7000 $ at the box office) the director replies that he is looking for something else. The audience problem for independent cinema will not be solved overnight in South Africa says Hermanus. That audience needs to be created first.

Hadrien Diez