“Ma Belle, My Beauty” is about longing: longing for connection, longing for artistic expression, longing for what used to be. Trying to enter the past, thinking that what you’re looking for is in the rearview mirror, is a lost situation, as the three main characters, who were once in a polyamorous relationship, discover. Everyone has moved on, but there is ambivalence, there is regret. The polyamory aspect of “Ma Belle, My Beauty,” written and directed by New Orleans filmmaker Marion Hill (this is her first full-length feature), adds a layer of complexity to what is a fairly simple romantic drama. “Ma Belle, My Beauty” takes place in the south of France, among sunny vineyards, icy streams, beautiful country houses, inhabited by charming people. Set against the backdrop of four excellent shows, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” unfortunately suffers from inertia and lack of conflict. There’s conflict, but it’s presented in a languid way that leaves the film gripping something solid to hold on to.
When the film begins, Bertie (Idella Johnson) and her husband Fred (Lucien Guignard) have moved from New Orleans to live in Fred’s parents’ country house in the south of France. Both are musicians, jazz guitarist Fred, and jazz singer Bertie. They were planning a European tour when suddenly Lane (Hannah Pepper), who had been the “third” in the relationship, showed up. Lane’s visit was Fred’s idea, and they both kept it a secret from Bertie. Bertie is ambushed. He has a lot of anger towards Lane, who disappears for no reason, probably out of the relationship. They have not been in touch since then. In the years that followed, Fred and Bertie married. However, it was clear that Fred wanted the three-way relationship to work again. He thought it would be good for Bertie. Bertie suffers from artistic malaise. He didn’t want to go on tour. Fred thought Lane might spark Bertie back into her creativity, even saying to Lane at one point, “He hasn’t been singing like that since you left.”
Lane is the wild card in the equation, and he spends a lot of time staring longingly at Bertie, even when Bertie clearly doesn’t want to “go there.” (Bertie called him about this at one point. “You’re doing that with your eyes. Stop it.”) Lane is the opposite of cold. On the second day of Lane’s visit, he meets Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), a beautiful Israeli woman, at a party. Sparks flew, and he carried Noa back to where Fred and Bertie were. Fred and Bertie read in bed, listening to the sexual excitement of the two women next door. Noa is the only one in the quartet who seems to be really enjoying life.
Beautifully shot by Lauren Guiteras, “Ma Belle My Beauty” takes place in an atmospheric paradise, sunny and summer and lazy, where the sun is falling on the vineyards, the hills outside, the fields are green, and people aren’t doing it. nothing but cycling the dirt road to the local market and drinking wine at the outdoor tables in the evening. The look and feel is similar to Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” or even Jacques Deray’s “La Piscine” (although the atmosphere is ominous, as opposed to romantic and full), and it creates a beautiful backdrop for all of these emotions. winding.
Hill’s script is refreshing because polyamory is not treated in a voluptuous or lewd way. It didn’t even think much of it. “Our ex came to visit us,” Fred told a friend. Just how this relationship was formed, and that’s it. At the same time, it’s not entirely clear how these three particular people were connected in the first place. How do the personalities interact to form a whole? Lane said at one point that she had never slept with Fred, so Bertie seemed attractive to both of them. He is the vertex of the triangle. One could understand that, given Johnson’s charisma. What wasn’t so clear was what Bertie saw in the two. Granted, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” happened after, but no one really knows what brought them all together, how they gelled as a threesome. The tactile sex scenes at the end of the game, or the slo-mo scenes of the three of them walking into the party and laughing, don’t fill that void.
One of the best things about the first feature was discovering new talent, and the actors here were all new to me, and amazing, especially Johnson and Shimon. Bertie is a woman weighed down by a lot, and you can see it in Johnson’s posture, the way he walks, the way he holds himself back. He also had a way of perceiving the room, seeing what was really going on, but also not knowing how to handle it all. When he sings, he throws away all obstacles. But he’s hurt, he’s in pain. In his mind, Lane left him. (Why “left” Lane is never made clear, and it’s a blank slate that the script should have dealt with. As such, Lane is essentially an emotional state—expressed through intense longing gazes—not a character).
During a difficult conversation towards the end of the film, Bertie says to Lane, “I don’t care. I have no room to care.” After seeing what we’ve seen during the film, his words make sense. Everyone wants something from Bertie. Everyone wanted him to be different, to grow in a different way, to do the things they thought he should do: go on tour, go to rehearsals, commit to singing, start over with Lane. He was tired of all that. But being bored with something, and “having no room to care” isn’t dramatic. “Ma Belle, My Beauty” clearly cares about its subject, and treats it with respect. But the atmosphere created does not provide enough room for real conflict or even expression. There is only so much longing to say.