Saturday, September 26, 2009

Steve Jacobs directs Coetzee's "Disgrace" (2008)

The film was utterly compelling throughout, from the first sight of Professor David Lurie's eyes peering from behind window blinds, to the last shot of him and his daughter Lucy going into her house. There was the danger of David Lurie losing all sympathy from the audience at the beginning of the film. (John Malkovich who plays him, said in an interview, that he could make any character unlikable.) But the risk is part of the bigger risk the film took: there will be no easy sympathy in this movie.

The shift in political power in South Africa leaves Lurie fearful, and this fear expresses itself in his concern for his daughter living out in the country by herself. When she is raped by three young black men, his worst fears are realized, and he seeks police action against the "criminals." His own earlier affair with a reluctant student he sees as Byronic passion and not as wrong. The latter understanding comes to him only through his daughter's experience.

Lucy, as played by Jessica Haines, possesses a stone-like stubbornness. Her actions are wholly guided by her decision to stay on in South Africa, and not flee like many whites did. So she decides to have the baby, and to become the second wife of Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney), her black tenant, and, as is revealed later, the brother-in-law of one of the rapists. In exchange for her land, Petrus will bring her under his protection. Lucy has come to terms with black power as "a fact of life."

To call the film--or for that matter, the novel--an allegory would be to oversimplify it, so rich are its nuances and ironies. I did not like the scene with the university commission investigating Lurie. The commission comes off as politically and morally naive. But that scene is an exception in a film usually quietly observing itself. Although the film stays faithful to the novel, it changes the novel in one essential aspect. Whereas the novel is compact and also witty, the film slows down the pace of the story, and, in the sweep of its camera over the magnificent landscape, speaks in near-epic tones.


Rui said...

"the sweep of its camera over the magnificent landscape"

1) it's good for south african tourism

2) the final shot, lucy's house nestled in the magnificent landscape: i felt this was the only bit of the film that was not faithful to the novel in spirit. the novel ends with david giving up his favourite dog - which leaves room for more questions than does the ending of the film.

but yes, absolutely LOVED the film. and that's saying a lot.

Jee Leong Koh said...

I knew you would run to see it, Rui.