Sundance 2021 Review: ‘Ma Belle, My Beauty’ Is a Simple and Exotic Polyamorous Romance

Historically, cinema has had a fixation with monogamous two-person couples and love triangles involving two people vying for the affections of one person. Films depicting the practice of polyamory, which involves engaging in simultaneous consensual relationships with multiple partners, are few and farther in between. Thankfully, we have movies like Professor Marston and the Wonder Women and also, the new Sundance romance Ma Belle, My Beauty, to offer simple depictions of this practice in order to make it less taboo.

In addition, because the picture takes place in the French countryside, it’s able to work as a feature-length travelogue as well as a rumination on polyamory and the nature of sex vs. romance. When Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Fred (Lucien Guignard) reunite with Lane (Hannah Pepper), the third person in their former relationship, Lane tries to right past wrongs as she surprises them on their getaway trip. Lane ends up challenging Fred over their mutual infatuation for Bertie, attempting to prove that they all may have had something together, yet she might be a more suitable partner for Bertie. One who will offer Bertie more emotional support to help her cope with her mother’s loss while providing intimacy in addition to spiritual availability.

Along with the luxurious setting, Lane ends up taking center stage in this breezy picture. Once she makes her sudden arrival, we mostly see her in all her loyalty and her contradictions as she makes her case for being a devoted partner while engaging in a fling with a beautiful woman named Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon). As Hannah Pepper does a commendable job at showcasing Lane’s facets, Idella Johnson manages to be in similar terrific form as Bertie. Even in her silence, Johnson shows how Bertie is at war over her feelings for her previously long lost love. Lucien Guignard is also exemplary as the charming Fred, but his narrative is underdeveloped compared to that of his female co-stars.

It’s an easy flaw to forgive due to the sensual chemistry between Pepper and Johnson being a strong selling point and how director/writer Marion Hill emphasizes on their verbal interactions and sly physical contact to greatly capture the movie’s erotic aura. The jazz score and the picturesque landscapes also help make Ma Belle, My Beauty an intoxicating, brisk watch.

Even if Ma Belle, My Beauty won’t change the face of queer romances, it’s still refreshing to have a film with polyamorous visibility that lets poly people be just as messy and contradictory as the infinite amount of monogamous couples, both hetero and homosexual, that we’ve seen on screen since well, the invention of motion pictures. That alone makes it worth watching along with its central performances and of course, the gorgeous countryside landscapes.

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Matthew St.Clair

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