Inside Out Review: 'Ma Belle, My Beauty' Is a Much-Needed Vacation Directed by Marion Hill

Starring Hannah Pepper-Cunningham, Idella Johnson, Lucien Guignard
Inside Out Review: 'Ma Belle, My Beauty' Is a Much-Needed Vacation Directed by Marion Hill
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Most of us can agree that one of the things we need most right now is a vacation. Wining and dining in the French countryside seems like the ideal setting right about now — and that's what Ma Belle, My Beauty provides.

Jazz is the score for a sun-drenched setting, while characters delectably indulge in cheese, drinking the finest grapes, and floating in the pool next to a rustic villa. In writer-director Marion Hill's feature debut (which won the NEXT Audience Award at Sundance this year), you are completely immersed in this idyllic vacation. Vacations can often bring drama, and if they don't, these perfect moments never last. In Ma Belle, My Beauty, a holiday becomes a collision with the past. Exes reunite, passions ignite and jealousies erupt in a complicated love story that touches on polyamory, something not often seen on film since Angela Robinson's Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

Lane (Hannah Pepper-Cunningham) takes a trip to Southern France at the invitation of her ex, Fred (Lucien Guignard), who is married to her other ex, Bertie (Idella Johnson). Fred and Bertie are musicians, but with an upcoming tour looming, Bertie decides she doesn't want to go. Since moving from New Orleans to France, she's been stuck in Fred's shadow. Unhappy in both her career and marriage, Fred selfishly invites Lane to see if their life can go back to the way it used to be when all three were together. But mainly, it's a way to get Bertie out of her creative rut so they can go on tour. When you're stuck, however, nothing in your past can change that, and while Bertie does perform and sing like she never has before in Lane's return (Johnson really wows here), three isn't company. In this crowd, Fred's plan doesn't go the way he hoped.

At first, Lane doesn't know if Bertie will be happy to see her, and you can tell Bertie is a bit uncomfortable and nervous about this reunion. It's been two years since Lane disappeared from Bertie's life with no explanation, and you can clearly sense some tension between them — some history yet to be uncovered. Bertie isn't the most welcoming of hostesses, as she asks Lane how long she's going to stay, and it doesn't help that Lane constantly brings up her surprise that Bertie and Fred are married. Their chemistry is evident as feelings emerge that they've been trying to forget. Their relationship creates an intriguing dynamic to watch, especially with both having some clear emotional baggage. Bertie seems to be carrying so much bitterness, while Lane's mellow and cool exterior is really just a shield. But while there are a lot of tense moments between them, they do also share some fun, comedic ones too — getting a glimpse at what their dynamic used to be like. The rapport between the film's two leading ladies makes for an enjoyable watch.

Ma Belle, My Beauty is a film about closure and new beginnings. It's pleasant to the eyes and ears and has that go-with-the-flow, chill pace that helps make it perhaps the vacation movie of the summer. We are given a slice of life look at small-town France where everyone knows each other, parties galore, open-air markets, and beautiful surrounding scenery of rivers and vineyards. It's a film of much serenity — and also vibes. The film is just vibes and really not that much else, but sometimes that's really all we need.

Inside Out festival runs online from May 27 to June 6. Ma Belle, My Beauty comes out on August 20. (levelFILM)