Disgrace Movie Review
David (Malkovich) is a professor at a Cape Town university who shocks the community with his unrepentant attitude toward a manipulative affair he has with a student (Engel). Shamed into leaving his post, he goes to live with his daughter Lucy (Haines) on her remote farm, where he helps Lucy's friend Bev (Press) in her work at a local animal sanctuary. After a nasty event, David is unnerved to discover that Lucy has given some land to her farmhand Petrus (Ebouaney) and that she's happy for Petrus to have the upper hand.
This is a complex, challenging look at issues facing post-Apartheid South Africa, and some of the nuances of the situation might be lost on foreign audiences. But the film is so well-made that it has the ability to get under our skin and constantly surprise us with our own reactions as we keep switching sides in various debates that perhaps seem unrelated. The filmmakers are exploring issues of power here, and their approach is anything but simplistic.
Malkovich is a superb presence at the centre of the film: quietly intense, a little creepy and thoroughly believable as a man who has chosen to ignore whatever society tells him to do. Most impressive is how he continually wins our sympathy, against the odds, and helps us understand the larger issues that are roaring under the surface. His scenes with the excellent Haines are terrific, as are his more open-handed moments with Press. The whole cast effortlessly blends raw emotion with sharp wit.
So it's a bit strange that a film so packed with solid material could feel so aloof and untouchable. Kind of like David himself, this story plays with principles but doesn't really act on them. And as the film blurs the lines between power and desire, it starts to feel heavy and rather grim, like a twisted fable about a nation that hasn't quite begun to find a way out of its own dark history.