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Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: Disgrace

Disgrace (2008) Fortissimo Films; Photo:
Disgrace is a challenging movie adapted form J.M. Coetzee's novel about a college professor from Cape Town, South Africa named David (Malkovich) who is caught in an illicit affair with a student.  He is forced out of his position and he leaves the city to live with his daughter, his tail between his legs.  Shortly after David arrives he sees the effects of what is left of the feudal Apartheid era when his daughter is brutally raped by a disturbed young man and David himself is disfigured after being set on fire, an ordeal he and his daughter survive, but their relationship never recovers from.  The remainder of the film is a study of the after effects of this tragedy as David and his daughter attempt to come to terms. 

I liked this movie, though it does not have the appeal to reach the mass market.  It is an art film, and it has all of the characteristics of one.  The pale lighting, the soft-spoken dialogue, the violin music and the "artsy" nudity all bring this one into the realm of “film-snobs-only”.  The pretentious nature of the film knocks it down a few notches, despite having a very good story filled with interesting characters.  The disturbing plot is not pushed down our throats to the point of being uncomfortable, instead we are allowed to stand back and examine the flawed beings on screen, making something rarely done in cinema today ans most mainstream films just expect the audience to passively absorb the flashing lights and bright colors that flicker on their screen.

John Malkovich gives a subdued performance here.  His character seems like a broken man even before his and his daughter’s attack.  It is interesting when his anger kicks in because it seems so bombastic, and you can really see a temper under his soft-spoken demeanor.  As David is the focus of the character study, it is important for him to feel as though he has been alive all these years, not just long enough for the story to take place.  There are points in Malkovich’s performance where we see hints of his past that give life and depth to the character.

Disgrace is a good movie, but it is not for everyone.  This limited appeal comes mostly from the film's tone and presentation, which are not bad at all, but are born from a Sundance school of indie direction that would leave major audiences more than a little dumbfounded and maybe even a little bored.  However, for fans of deep drama and intense character studies, it is a good film.  It is not a great movie, but, unlike World’s Greatest Dad and the Bounty Hunter, I don’t regret watching it, in fact, I was a little impressed by how it did not bow to the common movie syndrome that we would see in a  mega-budget Hollywood film.

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