Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Books, Films, Arts & Education
Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

09.23 Nasa launches satellite to precisely track how Earth's ice is melting

09.23 Climate study ‘pulls punches’ to keep polluters on board

09.21 Greed is killing Alaska's salmon habitat – but we can still save it

09.21 Trump administration poses new threat to birds in allowing ‘incidental’ killings

09.20 Al Gore Is Still Optimistic [24:06 video; rather than future Frankenstein governments, how can we better ensure having brilliantly efficient & competent governments?]

09.20 The $11 trillion question Chris Cillizza can't answer

09.20 Florence sparks pollution fears after excrement-filled 'hog lagoons' overflow

09.20 EU must end new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 to meet climate targets – report

News Media Matters

09.22 Progressives to DNC: It Would Be 'Insane' Not to Hand Over Twitter Account to Ocasio-Cortez

09.20 Morning Edition’s Think Tank Sources Lean to the Right

09.19 Taibbi: Bernie Sanders’ Anti-Amazon Bill Is an Indictment of the Media, Too

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

09.23 MARYLAND GOVERNOR REBUFFS CALL FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO BRETT KAVANAUGH ATTEMPTED RAPE ALLEGATIONS [Republicans above the law...]

09.23 Trump Is Strangling the U.S. Refugee Program to Death

09.23 Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 11/9" Aims Not at Trump But at Those Who Created the Conditions That Led to His Rise

09.23 The Trump Administration's Latest Tax Scam for the Rich [video]

09.23 One Tiny Tax Reform, Billions for America

09.22 As Right-Wingers Push Trump to Fire Rosenstein, Here's What to Do If He Does

09.21 400,000 Americans in 900 Cities Ready to Take to Streets If President Trump Fires Rosenstein After NYT Bombshell

Justice Matters

09.22 Making Tariffs Corrupt Again

09.22 Why isn't Mark Judge testifying about Kavanaugh? He is an alleged witness

High Crimes?

09.20 Trump Should Be More Worried About the Brennan Dossier

09.19 'Killing a generation': one million more children at risk from famine in Yemen [Does America's government have empathy? Does it understand the concept of morality? The Saudi Air Force would be ineffective without U.S. military assistance...]

09.19 ‘Tied to trees and raped’: UN report details Rohingya horrors

09.16 Merchants of Death Profit from the Bombing of Children as a US-Backed War Goes Largely Ignored

Economics, Crony Capitalism

09.23 The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire [1:18:01 documentary video]

09.23 Why We Have To Break Up Amazon

International & Futurism

09.23 For This Year’s International Day of Peace, Korea Takes the Lead

09.22 Which nation is 'most generous' to refugees? Certainly not the US

09.18 Racist rioting in Chemnitz has reopened Germany’s east-west split [After 10,000 generations, we are all mixed-race. So let's become friends with our cousins instead!]

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  Steve Jacobs' ''Disgrace''
Newspaper logo

FILM REVIEW:

Steve Jacobs' "Disgrace"

Malkovich cowering in a toilet: an image to remember

Reviewed by Chris Knipp

The film, like the book (but perhaps in clearer outline) is about humiliation, suffering, enduring.

J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace is a hard, concentrated novel, painful to read, unyielding, uncooperative, unfun. In the film version, what better actor than John Malkovich could convey Coetzee's own unwillingness to do anything to ingratiate himself to the reader? The actor projects a cold self-assurance. It may not matter that his South African accent, faulty at best, fades in and out; or that he seems too distant and affected to be any kind of literature teacher, let alone one currently teaching Wordsworth, a devotee of Byron.

The same thing happened with Malkovich's performance as Valmont in Frears' "Dangerous Liaisons"—his Midwestern drawl grated; he lacked suavity, lacked charm. None of it mattered because he had such evil, such confidence, such panache, such an edge, that he held the screen and transformed himself into a new compelling kind of 18th-century French Iago of love. Besides, in "Disgrace," as his character's daughter Lucy, the South African newcomer Jessica Haines is equally important and very good, less flawed by casting incongruities than Malkovich. And as Coetzee's comment has acknowledged, the most important thing to the adaptation is how the film can convey the beauty of the South African landscape better than his book did.

What's most disturbing to people about the novel is this: it conveys ideas through the protagonist David Lurie (Malkovich's role) about how South Africa has been trashed, how the blacks hate the whites, how the country is a place of anarchy and violence, that are clearly Coetzee's own views. How dare he do that and make no bones about it? But since he's ruthlessly honest, how dare he not? The novel was the first I read by Coetzee, and it didn't make me run out to read more. But the book became the first time a writer won a Booker Prize twice, and four years later Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Maybe he was doing something right.

And so were the Australian Steve Jacobs, who directed this adaptation of the book, and his Moroccan-born wife, Anna Maria Monticelli, who wrote the screenplay and produced it. Outsiders that they are, they have nonetheless produced an adaptation that makes a complex book clearer without mangling or oversimplifying it. This kind of international production may grate upon the spirits of South Africans, but they wouldn't be likely to enjoy an all-local production, either. All one can say is that this is a book that works well as a film, and that adapts successfully without a lot of changes.

David Lurie (Malkovich) has had several wives but he "wasn't made for marriage." A womanizer, a sensualist, at 52 he's losing his physical attraction; he's looking old. Even his Malay prostitute lets him go. He forces himself upon Melanie Isaacs (Antoinette Engel), a mixed-race student in his romantic poetry class. When they have sex, she turns away as if repelled, but she submits. He's found out and threatened by Melanie's boyfriend, yelled at by her father, boycotted by the students, and, at an administrative hearing, he's so unrepentant he ends by being forced to leave the college. He goes to the Eastern Cape, where his lesbian daughter Lucy has recently been abandoned by her lover. She grows flowers and vegetables she sells in the local market, and she arranges for David to help Bev (Fiona Press), a middle-aged lady whose animal shelter work consists primarily of euthanizing unwanted dogs. In and out of the property he now shares with Lucy is Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney), an almost mythically neutral, philosophical black man who owns land there and is gradually taking over, but who also made Lucy's garden land arable.

Then enters the outside horror. Three young black men appear when Lucy and David are returning from a walk and ask to use her phone. They invade the house, rape Lucy, nearly kill David, and shoot all Lucy's dogs, wrecking the interior of the house and stealing David's car. One pours a bottle of methyl spirits over David and sets fire to him, locking him in the bathroom.

This sequence is more powerful than the book. After his arrogance, to see Malkovich cowering beside a toilet bowl with his face burned is unforgettable. Eventually he returns to Cape Town and cowers before Melanie's family, asking forgiveness. It's not quite believed, but it's as much of a transformation as such a man is capable of. But it's Lucy's response that's more important: she refuses to report the crime, and refuses to leave. She cooperates with Petrus, who defends the youngest perpetrator. He turns out to be family, the son of his new wife's sister. He says it's over. Reconciliation. In fact, the attack may not have been so random.

David says it'll never be over and will be passed on to those who come long after them. This may be an endgame. But they were born here and they remain. The important thing is that Lucy stays, and so does David, after returning to Cape Town to apologize—and be serviced by a prostitute.

The film, like the book (but perhaps in clearer outline) is about humiliation, suffering, enduring. It's about sexuality and about living with other beings, other animals. Viewers who don't find "Disgrace" "real" astonish me, though people and events are symbolic as well as specific, always richly both, and always simple and complex. David sleeps with Bev to please her, because she's lonely, and she wants it. Of course it's the sort of good deed that pleases him, but there is humility in it, as is his help, however unenthusiastic, with the animals. Malkovich's arrogance becomes complex because the most vivid images in the film are the ones of him cowering and afraid. In order to maintain his Byronic arrogance as a genteel rapist of "coloured" young women, he has given up his pride and his status. "Disgrace" is a film for smart people. It's as tightly coiled and thought-provoking as the book, and nearly as good.


©Chris Knipp 2009. Visit the author's website.


Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore News Network. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.

This story was published on September 28, 2009.

 

Public Service Ads: