Saturday, January 30, 2021

Sundance with Abe: Ma Belle, My Beauty

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Ma Belle, My Beauty
Directed by Marion Hill

There is a reason that the end of many romantic relationships also means the end of any relationship between the parties. Whether they knew each other before they became involved or not, the idea of going from being incredibly close and sharing everything to a state of platonic friendship is difficult for some and impossible for many. Time may permit the easing of tensions and allow for wounds that may have been too fresh to be healed and turned into something else, but starting over with different expectations is rarely easy, and can often lead to renewed problems.

Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Fred (Lucien Guignard) live together in southern France. Their semi-stable lives are uprooted when Lane (Hannah Pepper), who was previously the third member of their polyamorous relationship in New Orleans, shows up. Bertie, who is attempting a jazz career, is particularly shaken since she was the object of both Fred and Lane’s affection, and Lane’s casual attitude, which includes a new fling with Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), doesn’t sit well at all, prompting considerable jealousy, anger, and resentment.

This film smartly begins in France after this functional threesome has ended its arrangement, and the depth of Lane’s connection to Bertie is only gradually revealed after she appears. Much is communicated merely through looks and body language, and the moments of passion feel genuine and intense. The surrounding setting adds to the mood, highlighting the way in which Bertie feels unfulfilled and how Lane’s sudden arrival startles her, reminding her of happier times in which she felt more like herself, distinctly and comfortably aware of where and who she was.

This film is focused most strongly on these four characters, all of whom contribute to an involving and very watchable narrative. Guignard and Shimon play their parts appropriately, seemingly aware that Fred and Noa are never going to be the primary focus of their partner’s attention, even if they care deeply for them. Pepper is casual and direct, sharing Lane’s feelings openly and presenting her attitude without fear that she’ll be told she’s wrong. Johnson delivers the film’s best performance, attacking Bertie’s anxieties and intricacies with an unfiltered freshness that radiates throughout the film. Its dialogue-free scenes that allow the strength of the connections between its characters to show are its most resilient, creating an enduring portrait of the lasting pull of sincere romance.


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