Ma Belle, My Beauty


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ma Belle, Ma Beauty
"This complex story is driven by its characters and blessed with a trio of impressive but unshowy performances." | Photo: Lauren Guiteras

Bertie (Idella Johnson) has an exquisite voice, but like a caged nightingale, she doesn't want to sing. She barely even speaks, beyond small scale interaction with her musician husband Fred (Lucien Guignard) and a handful of friends; she has made no notable effort to improve her French since moving to CĂ©vennes. Worried by her reluctance to join him on the tour they have planned, Fred decides to surprise her and try to lift her mood by inviting her former girlfriend, Lane (Hannah Pepper) to join them, but he doesn't know why the two split up - it's not clear Lane does either - and what follows only adds to the difficulty of the situation.

It can be difficult, as a bisexual person, to enter into what looks to outsiders like a heterosexual relationship and still hold on to the identity that comes from experience of living outside that privileged space. Still more so when marriage is involved. Lane is astounded that Bertie got married. Bertie is sad that she didn't come to the wedding. There's a mutual sense of betrayal and rejection here which goes much deeper than the breakdown of their relationship. Since Lane has travelled a long way and Bertie still feels some affection for her, she's not about to be sent away. The two circle around each other, trying to communicate, trying to understand, inadvertently hurting each other all over again.

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With polyamory now beginning to emerge as a subject which mainstream audiences will accept, writer/director Marion Hill mines its storytelling potential, using it to explore the different ways in which people can fit together or fall apart. She's up against it, with some viewers clearly confused by the myths that exist in their own heads, more than one critic assuming a non-existent sexual connection between Fred and Lane. In fact the bond between them is one of platonic friendship, and this lets Hill highlight the deep connections which can shape our lives without requiring sex or romance. Fred and Lane are happy spending time together, would like to live together again as thy did in New Orleans. Once again, Bertie is the awkward one, unable to fit in with the plan, but the pressure this puts on her might yet help her get closer to working out what she really wants from life.

Unravelling slowly against a landscape which perfectly suits the conventions of traditional cinematic romance, this complex story is driven by its characters and blessed with a trio of impressive but unshowy performances. The actors give one another the space and consideration that their characters don't. All the misery and bitterness and nostalgia and lingering lust of a messy break-up spill out despite both women doing their best to remain civil and avoid compromising their relationships with Fred. Then, as her patience wears thin, Lane does something which might be childish provocation or might be the first sign that she's ready to move on.

With so much going on, Hill sometimes seems out of her depth, but the core of the film is solid and it was a deserving winner of the Sundance Audience Award. It's rare to see a first time feature filmmaker taking on such a complex narrative and, one hopes, it is an indicator of impressive work to come.

Reviewed on: 04 Jun 2021
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A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers.

Director: Marion Hill

Writer: Marion Hill

Starring: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper-Cunningham, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon, Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper-Cunningham, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US, France

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