Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Movie Review: Disgrace

Disgrace ***
Directed by:
Steve Jacobs.
Written By: Anna Maria Monticelli based on the novel by J.M. Coetzee.
Starring: John Malkovich (David Lurie), Eriq Ebouaney (Petrus), Jessica Haines (Lucy).

Disgrace certainly does not make it easy on its audience. It is a rather punishing film, in which no ray of hope or happiness shines in. Even when the lead character is living the life he wants, he is not happy. He is miserable little man.

In the lead role is John Malkovich, who gives a great performance. He is Dave Lurie, Cape Town literature professor teaching poetry in the days shortly after Apartheid ended. He picks out a young student, and begins to court her. It is clear from the beginning of this “affair” that she really has no interest in him, but she is too submissive to his will. Things end badly, for both of them, and Malkovich has to leave the school.

He ends up further out in the wilderness living with his daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines). She lives on a small farm, and has a worker, Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney) on her land to help her out. Petrus helps to keep her safe, as the other locals will not mess with her. But when Petrus goes away for a few days, and group of young men attack Lucy and David, which changes everything. Lucy, once a strong, independent woman, becomes more submissive, much like the student in the first part of the movie.

Disgrace is an almost unrelentingly bleak film. It is a difficult film for an audience, because it never really spells out its themes. It takes a while to make the connection between the films first act with the rest of the film. But really, it is key to the rest of the film. David takes advantage of the pre-Apartheid fear that still lingered over many blacks in the country, where they feared to stand up to the white minority, who nonetheless held all the power. The rest of the film makes it clear just how much had changed. It was now the whites who were scared to stand up to the blacks. Lucy has every right to be angry about what happened to her, and to demand justice, but she doesn’t. Instead, she wants the country to heal its wounds, and so willing to give up her personal sense of justice for the national good. Petrus is not a good man, although he naturally outgoing and friendly. But he has ideas as to how to get what he wants. Did he really arrange the attack on David and Lucy? We never really find out, but either answer seems equally likely.

The film is complex and intelligent and impressively acted by its entire cast. But like its lead character, it plays its card almost too close to its vest. It is a slow moving film, one that demands our respect. But while I admired the film a great deal, I cannot really say that I enjoyed it. It’s an admirable film, but I cannot think of that many people who would want to subject themselves to it. For those of whom do, you will find an intelligent film. The rest of the people will probably skip it.

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