The film opens with Fred and Bertie (Lucien Guignard and Idella Johnson), two recently married musicians who live in Fred's parents' beautiful farmhouse in the south of France. A depressed Bertie feels like a stranger in a strange land, hardly finding the will to sing despite her upcoming tour. In an attempt to raise her spirits, Fred invites their ex-lover from their life in New Orleans, Lane (Hannah Pepper-Cunningham), to the property as a surprise. Sensuous parties, heartbreak revisited, strained silences, soaring music, and really hot sex ensue.
The New Orleans-based Hill does well because Ma Belle, My Beauty does not attempt to be the tentpole film for queer, polyamorous storylines. While fundamental to the plot, the film treats their threeway relationship as means to explore the threads that bind the characters together rather than a starter guide for the poly-curious monogamous crowd. It deftly explores jealousy, but never between Bertie, Lane, and Fred, who all have an easiness and respect for each other that feels refreshing.
Lane and Bertie have intoxicating chemistry, which communicates the depth of their previous relationship and the hurt Bertie experienced when Lane left without explanation. Ma Belle, My Beauty is most interested in these two, as Fred acts as second fiddle to the women nearly the entire movie, making his and Bertie's decision to marry so much more questionable. Idella Johnson plays Bertie's mix of desire and discomfort so well that often I didn't know if she wanted to jump Lane's bones or throw a drink in her face.
The film stumbles a bit with Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), a young Israeli woman Lane meets a party. Hurt by Bertie's lack of sexual attention, Lane blatantly flirts and loudly fucks Noa as a way to goad her ex into an emotional reaction. While it navigates jealousy well, too much time is spent on Noa's background as an IDF soldier and whether or not a supposedly BDS-supporting Lane is right to be interested in her. The movie doesn't commit enough to the politics either way, making it a confusing side distraction rather than anything substantial.
But I love the care with which Hill shoots the sex scenes—the fumbling with the strap-on, the loud neck kisses, the hands paused on belt buckles before asking, "Can I?" It feels messy and sexy but in an adult way. Coupled with Mahmoud Chouki's guitar-heavy soundtrack (featuring over 20 New Orleans musicians), the film is imbued with an unhurried, jazzy soundscape that has the playfulness of the Big Easy and the leisurely pace of European wine country.
Queer intrigue set against the dusty and boozy south of France looks so good, and it's a perfect escape.
You can watch the second screening of Ma Belle, My Beauty on Monday, February 1.