Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Books, Films, Arts & Education

12.11 This For-Profit College Is Leaving Students With Lots of Debt and No Degrees [It's a Trump University World]

Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

12.12 In Early Holiday 'Gift to Polluters,' Trump Guts Protections for 60 Percent of Nation's Streams, Wetlands, and Waterways

12.12 An Indication of What's Coming': Melting at North and South Poles Worse Than Previously Thought [4:47 video]

12.11 The will of the people is to halt climate change, what about politicians? [Excellent!]

12.11 'We live in a lobstocracy': Maine town is feeling the effects of climate change [Do you care?]

12.11 Protesters disrupt pro-fossil fuel event at COP24 – video [Do you care?]

12.11 'It's a sad reality': a troubling trend sees a 97% decline in monarch butterflies [Do you care?]

12.10 The new abnormal: why fires like Paradise will happen again and again

12.10 Extinction Rebellion goes global in run-up to week of international civil disobedience [13:38 video]

12.08 The Planet Has Seen Sudden Warming Before. It Wiped Out Almost Everything.

News Media Matters

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

12.12 Trump reportedly flicked a folder and scattered papers in anger after his fiery debate with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer [His obsession for a $6 billion border wall is childish, considering all the better uses for such investment.]

12.12 How the IRS Was Gutted

12.12 Here's a map showing how Trump's approval ratings in each state have changed since he took office

12.12 'We Can't Enact Our Agenda Without Seats at the Table': Tens of Thousands Sign Petition Demanding Powerful Ways and Means Committee Seat for Ocasio-Cortez

12.12 In Major Victory for Progressives, Democratic Leadership Abandons Tax Rule That Would Have Made Bold Agenda Impossible

12.12 The Sanders Institute's Gathering Was About Saving the World, But It Was Not About Bernie Sanders [a more detailed account]

12.11 There’s a great anti-poverty bill in the Senate. Why haven’t we heard more about it?

12.11 Trump’s Inner Circle Shrinks But Grows Even More Corrupt with Kelly Exit

12.11 2018 was by far the worst year on record for gun violence in schools [obviously, most politicians only care about "donations"]

12.11 Trump’s controversial “public charge” proposal that could change the face of legal immigration, explained

12.11 'We Gonna Rise Up, Rise Up 'Til It's Won!': 140+ Arrested at Pelosi and Hoyer Offices as Youth-Led Protests Demand Green New Deal on Capitol Hill [Political Inaction or Citizen Rebellion, take your pick]

12.10 John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, Is Finally Leaving “Crazytown”

12.10 Paul Ryan’s long con

Justice Matters

12.08 Mob mentality: how Mueller is working to turn Trump's troops

12.08 Mueller’s sentencing memo for Michael Cohen is very ominous for Trump

12.08 Read: Mueller’s new filing accusing Paul Manafort of lying to the government

High Crimes?
Economics, Crony Capitalism

12.10 Tackle climate or face financial crash, say world's biggest investors

12.10 Group led by Thomas Piketty presents plan for ‘a fairer Europe’

12.08 America’s Rigged Tax Collection System

International & Futurism

12.12 Why women have better sex under socialism, according to an anthropologist

12.10 Smaller Democracies Grapple with the Threat of Russian Interference

12.10 US and Russia ally with Saudi Arabia to water down climate pledge [The Oil Mafias lobby for more insanity]

12.08 'I don't want to go back': what's next for the Central American migrant caravan?

12.08 Paris on lockdown for gilets jaunes protests - live updates

12.07 How US billionaires are fuelling the hard-right cause in Britain

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: