JM Coetzee is a South
African Nobel laureate novelist who now lives in Australia. Very fitting
then that an adaptation of a book by him should be a collaboration
between the two countries. John Malkovich stars as Prof David Lurie
(early on, you easily want to call him Professor Lurid), a university
lecturer of English Romanticism whose ‘master’ is poet William
Wordsworth and who is also writing an opera based on poems by Lord
Byron. All pretty high-brow stuff that only serves to widen the gulf
between the world in his Eurocentric mind and the world around him.
Fascinated by female
student Melanie (Antoinette Engel), who falls in front of him one rainy
afternoon, he brusquely seduces her. Their increasingly tense rendezvous
eventually lead to his forced resignation. Finding Cape Town
increasingly hostile, he heads bush to stay on an achingly isolated but
picturesque farm with his adult lesbian daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines),
whose partner left.
This piece of land quickly
becomes an emblem for an entire country’s post-apartheid power-politics
turbulence. The narrative and symbolic engines of Disgrace are
surely race-relations and justice (a complex organism of past, present
and future). As should be clear from the language I’m being forced to
use in describing it, this film is full-on and difficult viewing,
especially running at just on two hours. It unflinchingly deals with
heavy, multi-layered realities. The brutal and simple float over the
complex bedrock which every honest post-colonial society must confront.
The filmmakers, Australian
director Steve Jacobs and screenwriter Anna Maria Monticelli (who
co-worked on La Spagnola) surely had rich material and I commend
their bravery. I personally found some of the imagery heavy-handed.
Scenes and objects were dripping with earnest meaning in parts, and I
found I wasn’t watching a naturalist film at all. It was more a highly
stylised and ‘good for you’ morality play. For some people, there is
nothing more rewarding; my personal tastes tend to be more nihilistic.
But the keyword is personal.
The Blu-ray disc’s HD
footage fairly handles the stunning scenery (which is yet another
parallel with Australia) and the lush full sound of DTS Master audio
surrounds you joyfully. Bonuses are confined to a 10 minute making of
which is surprisingly superficial, given the feature’s depth.
Definitely a well-made and
‘worthy’ film about pain, justice, the past and the future, without the
Hollywood uplift. Also, dog-lovers, consider yourselves forewarned: Prof
Lurie volunteers in an animal shelter.