Ma Belle, My Beauty | QFest 2021

Once upon a time, Bertie (Idella Johnson), Lane (Hannah Pepper), and Fred (Lucien Guignard) all coexisted happily together in polyamorous relationship in New Orleans. Bertie was the hinge of the V—Lane and Fred both loved her—then it all came to an end when Lane abruptly left and Fred and Bertie got married and moved to his family’s villa in rural France (apparently the family is very well off). They make a cute couple, and Fred has become the dominant partner in the relationship as he enjoys newfound successful as a bandleader (in New Orleans he was the outsider always trying to catch up). Bertie is the featured singer with Fred’s band, but lately something has been off and the music is just not working. Hoping to shake things up, Fred invites Lane to visit, in the process reopening a whole can of worms.

The story of Marion Hill’s amazing assured debut feature Ma Belle, My Beauty is about a formerly polyamorous relationship, but it’s not really about polyamory—instead, it’s about how ambitions and personal relationships can get mixed up with each other, so that an unresolved conflict about an old relationship can keep you stuck in your professional life as well, and prevent you from realizing the success promised by your talent.

Things get shaken up again upon the entry of Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), an Israeli who’s staying in the area for a few days. She and Lane immediately become lovers, making Bertie jealous, and she’s already got a lot to deal with since she’s already having trouble in her marriage, as well as feeling like an outsider as the only person of color in a very white part of the world.

Everyone and everything is beautiful in Ma Belle, My Beauty, from the village market to the ancient bridges to the friends who show up to what seem to be nightly dinner parties, and they’re all terribly sophisticated and accomplished as well. Granted, this is a circle of people brought together through the arts, but you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching an episode of some lesser known cousin to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, perhaps titled Lifestyles of the Attractive and Accomplished. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing—the physical beauty of the characters matches the beauty of the landscape, and it’s very pleasant to watch beautiful people well-versed in the arts of living going about their lives.

The most interesting story in Ma Belle, Ma Beauty is not whether Bertie and Lane will get back together, but if they will find a way to get unstuck and get on with in their lives, either together or apart. If you’re up for a vicarious trip to the South of France, with a good dose of personal drama thrown in, Ma Belle, My Beauty might be just the thing. It has a great sense of place, thanks in no small part by cinematography by Lauren Guieras and a soundtrack by Mahmoud Chouki, as well as a plausibly diverse cast of characters and an appreciation for the complexities of adult life. | Sarah Boslaugh

QFEST runs April 16-25, with programming only available in Missouri and Illinois. Tickets to single films are $14 for general admission and $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students. Once you begin watching, a film remains available for 48 hours, and several passes are also available. Further information is available from the QFest web site.

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