Lane (Hannah Pepper) used to be in a polyamorous relationship with singer Bertie (Idella Johnson) and her musician husband Fred (Lucien Guignard) until one day when she abruptly walked out of their lives. That was years ago in New Orleans. Now living in a picturesque villa in the French countryside owned by Fred’s family, Bertie has become artistically stale, enjoying life among the vineyards. The husband-and-wife duo hasn’t performed in public for months and with a new tour booked Fred is panicking. He tracks down Lane to join them in France hoping that her presence will rekindle more than Bertie’s passion for her former lover.

“Ma Belle, My Beauty” marks the feature debut by Marion Hill, a NOLA filmmaker with roots in Vietnam, England, and France who took home the NEXT Audience Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. With a jazz-infused score by New Orleans guitarist and composer Mahmoud Chouki, and a charming setting thanks to the small town in France where Hill spent decades of her youth, the film features all the elements of a typical rom-com (minus Diane Lane), however, this is not your typical love story and it’s also not your average LGBTQ film.

Hill delivers a story featuring three adults who aren’t struggling with their sexual identity or resentment issues that could arise from a polyamorous relationship. It may not be groundbreaking, but it is refreshing. The issue here is a partner who walked out of someone’s life with no explanation only to resurface later hoping to start again. Queer or straight, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

The fact that the cast is made up of unknown actors — this is the first feature for Hannah Pepper and Idella Johnson — works to the film’s advantage, as if we’re watching real people, not actors. The performances are solid and natural.

Of course, Bertie is less than thrilled when Lane shows up. She still hasn’t forgiven her for vanishing two years ago. Meanwhile, Fred conspires with Lane when Bertie’s not around to check the rekindling progress. I should point out that Bertie is the common denominator of this relationship, shared and loved by Lane and Fred who are purely friends not romantic partners.

After getting the cold shoulder, Lane sets her sights on a young and attractive painter named Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon) who also sets her sights on Lane. This stirs up feelings of jealousy in Bertie who is forced to confront her true feelings.

Marion Hill’s “Ma Belle, My Beauty” is a pleasurable romantic trek that succeeds at taking unconventionality and making it prevalent. Despite its lack of confrontation, the film keeps the viewer engaged with lush settings, a wonderful score, and first-rate performances. If you drink wine pick a theater that serves cocktails, you’ll be glad you did.

(3 stars)

Now showing at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas and Angelika Plano

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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