Friday, September 18, 2009

The Jacobs/Monticelli/Coetzee/Malkovich DISGRACE opens, via newcomer Paladin

DISGRACE is a profound experi-
ence. If the motion picture is indeed a collaborative art form, I suspect that this film -- directed by Steve Jacobs, with a screenplay adapted from J.M. Coetzee's novel by Anna-Maria Monti-
celli, and staring John Malkovich in the leading role -- is as good an example of a successful col-
laboration as we are likely to get in the near future.

The collaborators place us in the shoes of an intelligent, smiling racist and misogynist, a South African professor named David Lurie (played by Mr. Malko-
vich, below), who makes a soul-and-body journey that changes him -- and maybe some of the people around him -- and allows us to witness, experience and believe in the change. That we are able to do this and understand it, even haltingly, is where the movie's profundity lies. Many things happen here -- some subtle, some shocking. We're privy to them all, piecing them together, trying to understand how they connect, what they signify -- and why.

This is post-Apartheid South Africa, but the movie makes you understand that "post" does not necessarily mean "finished." Laws may change but feelings linger on both sides. Disgrace is the first film I've seen to deal with South Africa that made me consider what "truth and reconciliation" might mean from differing viewpoints -- and how deeply ongoing a process this must remain. Whose truth? Reconciled to what? Without giving away much plot, let me just say that the manner in which subjects such as animal euthanasia, sexual need, and love of country are woven into the fabric of the story is quietly spectacular.

This is a very quiet movie, in fact, and rightfully so. It is difficult to rush and holler when so much is at stake – and when one under-
stands so little of what is going on inside the “other.” When explosions do occur, you want to run for cover, but like the char-
acters here, viewers, too, I think will force themselves to face up to things, realizing that the outcome will probably not be very good. How adult -- but this is the rare movie made for that set.

Not having read the Coetzee novel, I can only judge the film experience, in which the direction is sure-footed enough to seem second nature to the location, characters and events, while the screenplay and dialog engulf without drowning us in detail. We always seem to learn enough to question and wrestle with characters’ decisions and motives without ever discounting them.

This role provides a one-two punch for Mr. Malkovich, after his wonderful turn earlier this year as The Great Buck Howard. If his South African accent is a bit weak, he smartly never pushes it, and so we don’t have those moments of a heavy accent suddenly going thin. The accent is the least of it, in any case. This actor captures first the outward sophistication and then the inner turmoil of his character, and he is aided grandly by Jessica Haines (two photos above, at right), who plays his daughter with an outer hardness and inner radiance that gives her character immense strength. Fiona Press (above, left) is wonderfully earthy as the head of the animal shelter, and Eriq Ebouaney (shown below), from 35 Shots of Rum and Femme Fatale, offers a strong presence as the bizarre combination of doppelgänger/polar opposite to Malkovich's character. There really is not a misstep in the casting or acting.

I can't imagine that Disgrace will set ticket sales afire, but I also can't imagine any aficionado of films for thinking adults not lining up to take on its challenge. Not just the best but the most important movie I've seen this year, it is being released via a new distribution company headed by Mark Urman called Paladin (which I'd like to learn more about).

TrustMovies unfortunately managed to post this one a week early and so has re-posted today -- which marks the real opening of the film. It plays in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, the Clearview First & 62, and the Quad -- and elsewhere across the country now, or soon, I hope.


GHJ - said...

Jim - I'd never even heard of this film before reading your post. Can't wait to check this out, that is if it makes it my way. Great stuff.

James van Maanen, said...

Yep--in a sense this film is keeping a rather low profile (couldn't find much at all on the web RE its distributor, Paladin, and the film, according to the IMDB, does not have an official web site). But The New York Times did a nice long article about it this past Sunday (
I will keep trying to find a source for playdates and then post a link to them, if I do. And I'll look forward to reading what others have to say -- especially you, once it comes to San Diego.

Anonymous said...

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