September 3rd, 2021
MOVIE: MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY
STARRING: IDELLA JOHNSON, HANNAH PEPPER, LUCIEN GUIGNARD, SIVAN NOAM SHIMON
DIRECTED BY: MARION HILL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The existence of pleasure that surrounds the characters in Ma Belle, My Beauty, living in the South of France, is constant. Not always in a sexual way, although there is that, but often in every inch of the frame, with beautiful people, delicious meals at a table, gorgeous sunsets, and images that spark the senses. It’s the inside of the characters that is not always happy and that is where the conflict of life is, isn’t it? In writer/director Marion Hill’s new film, the plot is about a couple, living in a beautiful French country home, and the impact on their lives when their past polyamorous relationship is rekindled with the arrival of their past lover. Old flames are sparked, the conflicts of love are discussed, but the happiness, and the pleasure still remains. The difficult part is navigating these feelings and Ma Belle, My Beauty projects a relationship drama with gentle care and raw emotion. This is an exceptional film and experiencing it all is a great pleasure.
The major focus is more on the relationship of Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Lane (Hannah Pepper), which ended abruptly, and when both parties went their separate ways to figure themselves out, a reconnection was never made. Now, Bertie and Fred (Lucien Guignard) are married, they perform with their jazz band at local restaurants, she sings, he plays guitar, and the people in town love them. But there’s still something missing. A spark, a flame, an emptiness in Bertie that Fred needs, which is why he calls Lane to reconnect. What follows is a long weekend between the three parties and as each minute passes, with various moments of awkward pauses, there’s the looming reality that these lovers still have feelings for one another. The journey of Ma Belle, Ma Beauty is like a fly on the wall of this complex and romantic relationship.
What rises to the top in a film like this is the writing, and for director Marion Hill her approach to these characters is not tiptoeing or cloying, but authentic. Every conversation has a background, a history of love that has impacted these people up to the moment. It’s also difficult to claim which performance of the two leads is best. Idella Johnson brings Bertie to life through a waving back and forth of quiet reservation and engaging in the joy of life. Hannah Pepper has a mysterious side, which is perfect for her role as Lane, but her character backstory is shelved to a frustrating point, and then revealed more in her pursuit of another woman at a party- Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon). It’s Lane’s pursuit of Noa in the face of Bertie, and the marriage of Bertie to Fred that reveals the complexities of these characters, where their love for one another is greater than their jealousy. It’s fascinating to experience and keeps the narrative thrilling.
Another factor of Ma Belle, My Beauty that amazed me was how energetic it felt from beginning to end. This is a narrative that involves conversations at tables, in the kitchen, long walks and talks in a Before Sunrise style, party montages with beautiful jazz music, and passionate scenes of lovemaking. To make a movie with those standard beats takes skill and an understanding of people, which clearly confirms that Marian Hill knows exactly how to make a romantic drama.
Ma Belle, My Beauty is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2021. The few negative beats involve an odd song choice for the closing scene and deeper details for the characters that feel omitted. Outside of that, I found this to be a beautiful expression of friendship, love, and how it can complicate our relationships. It’s also an impressive and genuine projection of polyamorous and same-sex relationships that cinema deserves so many more of today. Above it all, Marian Hill has made a beautiful film with Ma Belle, My Beauty and the pleasure of the experience was all mine.
MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS THIS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 3RD AND AT THE GENE SISKEL FILM CENTER
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady