Disgrace: Aussie Movie Starring John Malkovich

John Malkovich gives a quiet yet powerful performance in the Aussie movie “Disgrace,” director Steve Jacobs’ intriguing adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel.
Malkovich plays a Cape Town professor whose involvement in a sex scandal with a student forces him to embark on a personal journey of self-discovery, based on direct confrontation with apartheid, past and present, and its radical impact on his life as well as that of his daughter.
“Disgrace” premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Fest (in Special Presentations), where it won the Fipresci (International Critics) Award I am delighted to announce that this emotionally powerful feature is the first theatrical release of the new distributor on the block, “Paladin,” headed by the gifted Mark Urman.
Remarkably, this intelligent movie, made for mature audiences (for a change), is engaging and effective as a family melodrama as well as a chronicle of a society that changes rapidly in every possible way, demographically as well as socio-politically.
Putting aside his more characteristic cynical approach and smirk of superiority, Malkovich plays straight the role of David Lurie, a fastidious, arrogant, more amoral than immoral Cape Town college professor, who perceives himself to be impervious to—perhaps even above or outside—conventional mores and values, in and out of academe.
In the first chapter, Lurie, 52 and divorced, comes across as a bright, intellectual and cocky Romantic Literature instructor, who abuses his students and is not concerned with the implications of conducting an affair (and publicizing it) with one of his female students. 
But alas he is bound for a comeuppance and a downfall. Indeed, when controversy erupts on campus as a result of his affair with a student named Melanie, Lurie faces an inquiry, in which he admits to his guilt (though he does not really apologize or shows regret), leading to his forced resignation from academic life, which he seems to accept with quiet resignation.
The second reel finds Lurie in a hasty retreat into the far and remote countryside, where his lovely daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines) owns a farm in the Eastern Cape, proudly working the land.  He takes his time to adjust to the new, isolated landscape and its wild lifestyle, and gradually begins to help harvesting the flowers.  Moreover, to please Lucy, he volunteers at an animal welfare clinic, where he befriends (and later beds) the head worker, a sensitive, sensible middle-aged woman, who’s vastly different from his former conquests. 
All along, Lurie fears for his daughter’s isolation, and indeed, his fears materialize, when he and Lucy are violently attacked by three black youths. Locked in the bathroom, he is not a direct witness to the crimes committed against Lucy, and is later told that she had been brutalized and raped by them.
After this horrific assault and siege, Lurie can’t bury his guilt or repress his anger.   He is deeply shaken to learn that one of their assailants is in fact a relative of the trusted worker Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney), who lives peacefully alongside Lucy in the South African brush, where he has begun constructing a home at the edge of her property.  The narrative asks, Can these people find grace and maintain dignity and honor in a country that’s still struggling with its tragic history? Or is the troubled and violent history destined to repeat itself forever into the future?
J.M. Coetzee published his book, “Disgrace,” which some critics consider to be a masterpiece, about ten years ago.  Among other distinctions, “Disgrace” was voted the greatest novel of the last 25 years by some luminaries in 2006. The movie is made by the Australian husband and wife team Anna-Marie Monticelli, who adapted the book to the screen, and Steve Jacobs, who directs. Jointly, they had made only one film before, the melodrama La Spagnola,” which I have not seen.
“”Disgrace” is both plot and character-driven, with several interesting twists and turns in both areas. I ma told the movie does justice to the book in being complex, subtle, and multi-nuanced, containing quite a few genuinely disturbing and shocking events but depicting them without the usual salacious or sensationalistic melodrama.
It’s a credit to the filmmakers that the arguments between Lurie and Lucy never come across as strictly ideological or schematic, but instead illustrates different approaches to the post-Apartheid situation, where some (like Lucy) are willing to compromise, both personally and politically, and to accept their fate in this new world, albeit at a price, while others (like Lurie) try to resist, refusing to believe in any hopeful future of peaceful and harmonious co-existence between the two races.
Spoiler Alert
When Lucy learns that she has become pregnant as a result of her rape, she resolves to keep the baby and share her land with Petrus, in return for his protection.  Clearly, it’s a compromising relationship, which she accepts.  In contrast, initially, pushed to his limits as a father and a man, Lurie neither accepts nor understands Lucy’s position, which for him signals defeat and victimization that border on masochism.  Nonetheless, time does its work, and the picture ends on a satisfyingly reconciliatory note, when on his next visit to the farm, Lurie shows signs of acceptance of his daughter and her new life, and the vast changes in his country.
Running time: 119 Minutes.


John Malkovich
Jessica Haines
Eriq Ebouaney
Fiona Press
Antoinette Engel
Natalie Becker