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“I Want You To Want Me” – Ma Belle, My Beauty (Sundance 2021 Film Review)

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Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper appear in Ma Belle, My Beauty by Marion Hill, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Lauren Guiteras. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Oh, how we long for those hot summer nights. The cicadas blaring in the fields, the leaking pool shimmering in the sunlight, the wincing at cringe-inducing get-togethers, and the friendly case of casual drunk driving. The feeling and nostalgia of summer is a universal first world memory a distant paradise from our current covid state. Though film can always take us all back to these unique moments, with a certain atmosphere of personal flare. Mixing in the best trademarks of American mumblecore, Marion Hill's Ma Belle, My Beauty is an audacious charismatic romp. Essentially built from an incredibly low budget and a cast of unknown actors and crew, the film differentiates itself out of its romantic comedy crowd by introducing a variety of unique clever subversions of the “will she, won't she” trope. The end result represents the same emotional scale of a lazy summer fling a temporary albeit memorable connection of pure cinematic infatuation.  

The stakes are low, and the vibes are high throughout Ma Belle, My Beauty. A love triangle that borders on cringe comedy and potent romance, the film follows the unique relationship between Bertie, Fred and Lane. Bordering on an energy that can best be described as chaotic polyamory — the unique introduction of indulgent motivations and hidden promises provides a twisty backdrop against the beautiful French countryside. Completely shot in and around Anduze, France the film is an immaculately sensual visual voyage into the hidden secrets and unearthed desires between these three unique leads. The conflict is nothing particularly new, but Hill's direction provides enough of an original voice to carry the familiar narrative. Using a New Orleans based orchestration to link back the history and cultural background of the three lovers, the jazz-infused score is perfectly timed for both dramatic and comedic effect. 

While one could compare the character dynamics featured in Ma Belle, My Beauty to the work of Woody Allen and other questionable male-centric writers — Hill provides a different sort of complexity against her non-archetypal three dimensional leads. Unlike the familiarity with the structure and plot of the film, the chemistry between all of the characters  (supporting included) provide ample characterisation and leeway into the entrenched motivations and aspirations of all parties involved. But what sells these desires are the actors on screen. Unflinching and commanding in every scene, newcomers Idella Johnson and Hannah Pepper bounce off each other's quirks and mannerisms with great ease. Especially for Johnson, the film features various different musical performances, providing a great display of her powerful vocal range. 

In what Ma Belle, My Beauty lacks in distinct originality — the film provides a unique spin on the tiresome love triangle trope, while simultaneously providing enough comedic material to sustain potential rewatches. It's an endearing passion project and a respectable piece of romantic honesty that ends with the possibility for a potential sequel. Many viewers including myself would be enthusiastic to see these characters again, in another completely different vacation paradise. Perhaps a Barcelona fiesta of re-found admiration self contained with various dazzling sexcapades. Who knows! Love is complicated, and anything can happen after the end credits roll.

Dir: Marion Hill

Scr: Marion Hill

Cast: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon

DOP: Lauren Guiteras

Country: France/USA

Year: 2021

Runtime: 95 minutes

Ma Belle, My Beauty premiered at this year's Film Festival as part of the NEXT category. The film will screen again virtually on February 1st. Ma Belle, My Beauty is also seeking International Distribution.

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