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(The 2021 Sundance Film Festival ran January 28- February 3, all virtually as well as with drive-ins sprinkled around the U.S.. Hammer to Nail is bringing you a ton of coverage so, keep coming back! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

People who attend queer festivals and people who program queer festivals often complain about the lack of the ‘B’ in the LGBTQ. Even more rare is a film about polyamory that isn’t done by some male director just wanting to play in a space he considers dangerous and devious. With that in mind Ma Belle, My Beauty is a refreshing drama about a triad that has broken and become a couple and the work necessary to restore the balance. 

Polyamorists in a functioning relationship will often tell you that whatever formation of a relationship they are in is the strongest. If they are in a triad, then three people is the strongest, if there are four people then four is the strongest. According to physics, three is the strongest, which is maybe why the characters seem so lost in Ma Belle, My Beauty without each other. 

Despite the splendid French countryside captured beautifully with epic cinematography, despite living in a private estate with a vineyard, despite making a living as musicians, Fred (Lucien Guignard) and Bertie (Idella Johnson) have not found much happiness in their marriage. It’s gotten so bad that Fred has called up their third Lane (Hannah Pepper) try to rekindle energy they had when they lived in New Orleans together. When Lane shows up, Bertie is not too happy to see her and the backstory comes out slowly over the course of the entire film. Part of the satisfaction of the film is that the screenplay is so intricately designed that we are always learning something new in every scene, forcing us to reconsider the relationship that the three have had in the past and now are attempting to store. Each member of the cast turns in a nuanced performance pulling the audience for or against one of them at various times as the script requires. Composer Mahmoud Chouki reflects this blending and battling of cultures as French, North African, and New Orleans rhythms come together to find a new harmony.

Director Marion Hill says in her Director’s Statement “We are tired of seeing depictions of gay women whose main struggle in life is with their sexuality and we are tired of mainstream eroticization of being ‘in the closet.’ What are the women’s identities outside of this relationship?” She also qualifies her story, saying “This film is not an overarching explanation of polyamory; …Queer polyamorous folks are not a monolith.” I fully agree with this goal and assessment although I am unsure (I scoured the notes for it) if she has actually been in a polygamous relationship or is just looking at it from the outside. I’m not sure the technically I would classify the relationship in Ma Belle, My Beauty as polyamory because it seems like the Fred and the Bertie have a relationship and the Bertie and the Lane have a relationship, but the Fred and Lane don’t even really seem to like each other and that’s not going to be very functional in the long run for polyamory. It may just be something else entirely, like looking the other way.  Like maybe I would classify that as an open marriage. There is nothing wrong with that, and I love that Fred was self-aware enough to know there was something he could not provide Bertie. I’m not sure I have ever seen that on screen.

The arrival of Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), a former soldier from Tel Aviv, complicates the romantic triad. Although she deepens the conflict, her impact on the story is never fully realized. It also draws attention away from the reconnection of the triad, and somewhat suggests that Lane is sexually promiscuous, and shaming her a bit for her immediate connection to Noa when she had been, only seconds before, focused on Bertie. But I will give Hill the benefit of doubt, as she intends her film only as “an intimate look into the experience of one group of people who navigate their relationship in a way that makes sense to them – or, at least, that used to make sense.” I love that. We are not monolithic. So I accept the portrait she has given us as messy and rough – just as most relationships are.

Once you get over the feeling that these are first world problems and they should all just be happy that they have money and can love in the way that they would like, the film is really satisfying. And as one of only three films at Sundance where queer sexuality plays directly into the plot it was a very satisfying watch. Ma Belle, My Beauty should play well at queer festivals, at least at those that include polyamory in their alphabet.

– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)

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Bears Rebecca Fonté is a transgender filmmaker, festival programmer, and journalist. She founded Other Worlds Film Festival after two years as the Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. Her SciFi shorts ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE, PRENATAL, and THE SECRET KEEPER have played 150+ festivals including Fantasia, SciFi London, Boston SciFi, FilmQuest, Austin Film Festival and Dances With Films. Her LGBTQIA Horror short CONVERSION THERAPIST made its world premiere at Inside Out in Toronto and US Premiere at aGLIFF. Her feature thriller iCRIME, which she wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Breaking Glass/Vicious Circle Films in 2011. Bears Rebecca also was one of the producers on the Sundance Jury-Award Winning short THE PROCEDURE. In 2021, after five years on the Board of Directors she was made Artistic Director of aGLIFF, the oldest Queer film festival in the Southwest.

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