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Review: Disgrace (2009)

Disgrace (2009)

Directed by: Steve Jacobs

Premise: A South African college professor is fired from his job after having an affair with a student. He travels to the country to stay with his daughter but they are attacked by local thugs and become embroiled in South African politics.

What Works: Disgrace is an impressive and emotionally wrenching film. It deals with very harsh subject matter, including sexual violence, but what is distinct about Disgrace is the restraint it employs. Although the film makes it clear what happened to the father and daughter, it does not wallow in the lurid details or in the sentiment. Instead, the film moves matter-of-factly through the events and in that way it gives cruelty a human face that it so often lacks in the movies.  This is embodied most by Eric Ebouaney as a local landowner. His performance is frightening in a very unique way; the character is complicit with the violence around him and that detachment from the brutality has a very powerful way of setting the tone of the film. The other performers in Disgrace are impressive as well including John Malkovich as the father and Jessica Haines as his daughter. They convincingly convey a father and daughter relationship and the trauma of their assault plays out in a very credible way that does not rely on histrionics but instead subtly emphasizes the weight now hanging over their lives. Malkovich in particular is really on his game in Disgrace and although the character changes from the beginning of the film to the end both he and the screenplay avoid the clichés of the stoic academic finding peace with the world. Instead it achieves something more complex.

What Doesn’t: After the assault, some viewers may expect Disgrace to transition into rape-revenge mode. The film never does that, which is to its credit, but the ending may be frustrating for some viewers who are looking for a less ambiguous or more hopeful or conventional conclusion. 

DVD extras: Interviews, featurette, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Disgrace is similar to and largely on par with Ingmar Bergman films like The Virgin Spring. As tough as some parts of it are to watch, Disgrace is a film of considerable skill and intelligence that is well worth a look.

Episode:  #306 (September 19, 2010)