Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 18th, 2021
Ma Belle, My Beauty (Marion Hill, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
The sensuous joys of food, culture and song combine with more sensual pleasures in Marion Hill’s debut feature, Ma Belle, My Beauty. Shot in the Languedoc region of southern France, in the village of Anduze, the film offers a sumptuous visual feast to match the other delicacies on display. This is no superficial parade of beauty, however; rather, we are here to witness a robust exploration of identity and sexuality, all wrapped up in an ever-fascinating discussion of relationship dynamics. Humans are a marvelously complicated species. Watch and celebrate.
When first we meet the American Bertie (Idella Johnson) and French Fred (Lucien Guignard), they are not quite happily rehearsing together. Recently married, they are bandmates as well as life partners, she the singer and he a multi-instrumentalist. Bertie’s having a bit of a metaphysical crisis, though, unsure of herself or her career. And so Fred, thinking it will help restore her mind and body, has invited a third party, Lane (Hannah Pepper), for a visit, without telling Bertie. As will soon become clear, they used to all be together in a polyamorous threesome, though one in which Lane and Bertie would partner up, as would Bertie and Fred, but never Lane and Fred.
Bertie is none too happy, as she and Lane did not part on the best of terms. In fact, Lane simply left. Still, as she will later claim, she misses having sex with a woman, and the flirtatious Lane does quite a lot by way of temptation, including hooking up with a young Israeli, Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), whose ripped 25-year-old body is a walking reminder to our thirtysomething protagonists that time waits on no one. Meanwhile, the genial, if concerned, Fred, looks on, hoping that whatever happens will revive his wife’s spirits (and get her to want to sing again). If it takes a ménage à trois to make Bertie happy, he is all for it.
Beyond the gorgeous locations, photographed via sumptuous cinematography, what anchors the story are the four central performances, especially those of the three women. Hill explores Bertie’s conflict with great nuance, allowing a full range of emotions and possibilities. Bertie’s past (with both Lane and Fred) very much informs her present, and none of her hesitancy about what to do next comes from any doubt about her sexuality: she’s bi, and comfortable with that. Johnson and Pepper do a marvelous job portraying former lovers who dance around the spark of renewed passion. Shimon brings her own charm into the mix, enriching the narrative in unexpected ways.
By the end, though much is resolved, many questions remain, as in life. Still, some of the solutions feel a little too simple, and the conclusion rushed, belying the complexities of earlier moments. The film nevertheless remains an engaging journey into the heart of the matter (and that of France), mixing drama and comedy in moving combinations. May the language of love always call to us with such an alluring siren song.