Review: Sexual Tension, Sparkling Joy Propel Polyamorous Romance 'Ma Belle, My Beauty'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 9, 2021

'Ma Belle, My Beauty'
'Ma Belle, My Beauty'  

Polyamorous relationships are nothing new in film, though they've often been treated with skepticism, or depicted as affairs (which is understandable, in a way, since the word "polyamory" is relatively new). More nuanced projects have taken a have given the subject some attention over the last decade or so, though that attention has often been of a tentative and cautionary sort. Lynn Shelton's 2009 movie "Humpday" was an uneasy comedy built around the idea of a man wanting to experiment with his male best friend, and hoping his wife will understand; Joanna Coates' 2015 drama "Amorous" followed four young people to a quiet corner of England where the boys and girls could mix and match in a Utopian sexual free-for-all; Jan Oliver Lucks' more recent "There Is No I in Threesome," which is more or less a documentary, jumps into polyamory with enthusiasm but ends up dragging itself away with a scorched and sorrowful demeanor.

Writer-director Marion Hill approaches polyamory with a different mindset in "Ma Belle, My Beauty." Rather than show a relationship starting up out of curiosity, youthful idealism, or sheer sexual exuberance, Hill opts to depict a relationship between a couple and their former polyamorous partner that's come to an end some time before, but might stand some chance of being resurrected. The point here isn't to see wounds inflicted (or avoided); rather, it's to see if wounds already there will be healed or made worse once a couple's missing third reenters the picture.

Bertie (Idella Johnson) is a gifted singer. She's moved to France with her husband Fred (Lucien Guignard), whom she married in the wake of two losses:Her mother's death and , before that, the abrupt departure of Lane (Hannah Pepper), who used to be Bertie's other partner. Fred, a successful musician, is preparing for a tour, and he wants nothing more than for Bertie to accompany him and his band as a singer, but Bertie's creative spirits have been doused.

Whether from love for Bertie, ambition for his tour, or a mixture of the two, Fred arranges for Lane to come spend a few days parents' house in France, where he and Bertie have been living. What was intended as a happy surprise instantly becomes a morass of conflicting emotions as Lane and Bertie sort through unresolved emotions. Fred remains optimistic (and mostly on the sidelines) as the drama unfolds... and as the reunited trio unexpectedly grows to include a potential fourth.

Pain, anger, and sexual tension suffuse the film, with sparkling moments of joy that pop up here and there. Hill and her cast don't go for easy reconciliations or saccharine dialogue, focusing instead on a constant crackle of desire mixed with rage. But if these people don't know how they feel and what they want, the music they make (and which carries the film forward, some of it by way of Mahmoud Chouki's original score) reveals the hard and heartfelt truths they're looking for.

"Ma Belle, My Beauty" screens as part of Outfest and opens in theaters August 20.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.