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Star - John Malkovich
Run Time - 119 minutes
Certificate - 15
Genre - Drama
Rental - 99p per night@Blockbusters.
Amazon - £11 ish
Country - South African/Australian
As bad as apartheid was at least the whites bought a decent economy to one corner of Africa, something the continent has failed badly on in the past, South Africa now producing 24% of Africa's Gross Domestic Product. If it fails then Africa fails once again but if it works out and the transition from white to black majority rule is completed then other African countries could mature and flourish, Rwanda and Botswana showing positive signs. Judging by the riots at the diamond mines last week the cheap black labor have sussed out they are still being exploited like the bad old days and the established international commonwealth mining companies that raped the country are beginning to get nervous as their greedy profits disappear as wages rise, a sign of a confident nation who know what their assets are and what they should be paid for them.
'Disgrace', based on the rather emotionally complex Booker Prize winning novel of the same name by celebrated South African writer JM Coetzee, delves into that physical and emotionally transition from white to black South African rule, one skin color having to surrender what they call home to the other, the role reversal narrative here exploring themes of guilt and emancipation, surrender and submission. Anyone who has been to the modern South Africa will know not every white person wants to give up what they have out there and not every black person is ready to fill those gaps and so there are tensions. At least under Apartheid most South Africans had work and so the violence of today that is destroying the country from the 25% without work was pacified some back then. But what if you were white and you didn't want to leave your rural home in some of the most stunning country in the world, yet your future likely to be grim from that surge of animosity from 48 million blacks who would rather like what you have on their ancestors land if you stayed? Hite Zimbabwean farmers know all about that. The question now is will the new black middle-class drag up the people and new nation or leave them behind and take the money like the whites did. It looks like the later so far.
John Malkovich ... Professor David Lurie
Jessica Haines ... Lucy Lurie
Eriq Ebouaney ... Petrus
Fiona Press ... Bev Shaw
Antoinette Engel ... Melanie Isaacs
Natalie Becker ... Soraya
Antonio Fisher ... Sidney
David Dennis ... Mr. Isaacs
Paula Arundell ... Dr Farodia Rassool
Arrogant English Professor David Lurie (John Malkovich) of Cape Town University has hit middle age hard, spending his time having affairs with his pretty students and educating an increasingly mixed racial class. He doesn't bonk his students for lust so much but to reassure himself of his sexual prowess at a balding 55 by exploiting his power and position.
His latest conquest is beautiful Cape Colored Soraya (Natalie Becker), reluctant but willing all the same, his power that potent. But she has a boyfriend, Sidney (Antonio Fisher), who would quite like to punch his lights out but embarks on a campaign of intimidation instead, resulting in Lurie being exposed after he offers to pass Lucy on critical exam paper if she continues the affair.
Confronted with his sexual misdemeanors by the university board a full contrite confession is required or no pension and future, his teaching days over for the time being. But Lurie is beyond caring and decides to spend some time with his gay Daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines) in the remote Northern Cape under the stunning Jumbleo Mountain Range, she too going through her own personal battles after splitting up with her girlfriend and facing losing her equally remote farmstead.
To keep her house she has done a deal with devil, the devil being Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney), a black handyman of David's age who offers protection to her from the violent locals if she lets him and his family build on her land, the terms favorable to Petrus, if all goes well the land soon his. But when David arrives it upsets the arrangement and father and daughter soon attacked by a gang of young black men, brutally so, making David reassess his view on the world away from his safe and bourgeois lifestyle in Cape Town. Alas his daughter is beyond fighting back and determined to stay under Petrus arrangement, one that seems to reflect the politics of the new South Africa, inverted apartheid.
It's quite a while since I have enjoyed a film as intelligent and emotive as this one. It really gets to the heart of sex and power and why women are attracted more to the power than the sex. A man knows that unless a woman feels inferior to him in some way she will not desire him and however educated a woman is, all women want to be wanted in some way and that may require submission. Men will abuse their power, why they chase it, as women will be drawn to them because of that arrogance. What percentage of women really want a house husband? And do men that become househusbands soon get dropped or divorced because of that loss of masculinity? The answer is probably yes. Wives become your mum in the end.
I think the complexities of Malkovich's character comes from the authors own experiences in the new South Africa and how the white educated middle-class have had to reassess their cozy life now they are not in charge, no actor better than hamming that depth of internal maelstrom of emotions than John Malkovich. But there is no scenery to munch out in the remote Northern Cape and so he has to be on his best behavior and puts in a great performance to nail this complex role here, his best movie for ages. Men of power can't help but misuse it and for the professor its doing things that he knows will only bring about his self destruction, another certainty in his life to draw comfort from the message I picked up on. There are a lot more messages than that to pick up on with one of the chunkiest scripts seen on film for decades, Anna Maria Monticello's screenplay and Steve Jacobs's direction rather good if you consider the fastidious nature of the author's emotional message to get on screen here. Not one for Michael Bay.
The critics were mixed on the film of the book because some didn't seem to grasp just how intricate the book and the professor's conflicts are... others thinking the film didn't make enough of the powerful book. For me the main protagonists of the professor and his daughter represent white South Africa to Soraya's new young Rainbow Nation and the opposite directions both are going, the idea to live those conflicts through the professors relationships with his daughter and his lovers quite clever constructed. Its one of those films that the viewer has to be left to read into it what he feels is going on and not get caught up in any pretensions there may well be here. I think it was rather good.
Imdb.com - 6.6/10.0
Metacritc.com - 71% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 81% critic's approval
Leonard Maltin's - 2.5/4
Time Out - 'It's an enormously complicated story with great potential for reductive schmaltz, but this is avoided thanks to Anna Maria Monticelli's sharp, sensitive screenplay and superb performances'.
The Times - 'Steve Jacobs' adaptation of J.M. Coetzee's Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace fearlessly pares back the layers of post-Apartheid South Africa within the microcosm of a father/daughter relationship'.
Total Film -'Not a comfortable watch... but still powerful and clear-eyed'.
The Guardian -'The visionary gravity of J M Coetzee's Booker-winning novel is perhaps untranslatable to the screen, but Steve Jacobs's film is a very creditable try'.
NY Times -'More convincing as an allegory, but faithful to Coetzee's acerbic, alternative view of S. Africa's future than the usual uplifting themes of reconciliation and forgiveness'.