...[Filmmaker Marion Hill's] “Ma Belle, My Beauty” — which won the
Audience Award in the NEXT category at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival
and premieres in theaters Friday (Aug. 20, 2021) — follows Bertie
(Idella Johnson) and Lane (Hannah Pepper), two formerly polyamorous
lovers who reunite for the first time in years at the insistence of
Bertie’s husband, Fred (Lucien Guignard).
Bertie and Lane
Two years after Lane gratuitously disappeared from their lives in New
Orleans, Bertie and Fred have gotten married and moved to Fred’s family
home in the French countryside. ...Fred decides to enlist Lane’s help to
get Bertie out of a creative and emotional rut. But when Bertie refuses
to buy into Lane’s attempts to re-create their old carefree dynamic,
Lane begins seeing a stunning Israeli ex-soldier named Noa (Sivan Noam
Shimon), which quickly reignites dormant jealousies.
...Unlike traditional casting processes, in which writers or directors
try to match actors with specific characters, Hill said that, while she
had an outline for the story, she always intended to collaborate with
actors to create characters that rang true to their own experiences.
That meant “incorporating parts of their personality, their gender,
their background, their race and culture into what was going on in the
script,” she said.
[...Said Hill,] “The whole film is referring to this relationship they
shared in the past and watching them kind of figure out how to be with
each other now. They’re just in this room sharing the most powerful,
intimate version of what they have, so that really influenced the
lighting, and we wanted it to feel dark and almost chilling.”
In terms of blocking the scene, Hill said it was always important to
emphasize the contrasting power and sexual dynamics between Bertie and
Lane by showcasing “the subtleties of how their bodies are moving
together, how they're speaking to each other, and seeing who is seeming
really comfortable in what moment.” ...
“This is them in a vacuum, and there’s no one watching them,” she said.
“That scene is our look into the depth of what they have, what they
Hill said she also had to do some research about polyamory while she was
writing the screenplay. ... “I think what was most eye-opening for me
when I was learning about polyamory for the first time was how much of
it is communication and is consent-based rather than sex-based,” she
said. “I wanted to also kind of explore the beauty of polyamorous
partnerships that might not be sexual, like the Fred and Lane
relationship, which again comes out of tremendous trust and empathy and
kind of the sense of family that, historically, we haven’t really seen
when it comes to relationships involving more than two” people.
“Ma Belle, My Beauty” comes pre-drenched in the languid pleasures of
late summer; for anyone looking for a respite from and a celebration of
the season’s drowsiest dog days, it works a trick.
...Their band is scheduled for a European tour in just a few weeks, but
Bertie has been avoiding rehearsals. In an attempt to jump-start her
creative juices, Fred extends an invitation to Lane (Hannah Pepper), who
was Bertie’s lover in a polyamorous — but decidedly mono-directional —
relationship back in NOLA.
Mono-directional because, although Fred and Lane enjoy an easygoing
friendship, it’s Bertie they both love. As the hot summer days wear on,
the dynamics get dicier and more delicate, with Lane plainly longing to
resuscitate what she and Bertie once had, Bertie harboring submerged
yearnings and jealousies, and Fred — well, Fred’s just enjoying all the
food, wine and music his community has to offer, with an occasional dip
in the local river for refreshment.
At its best, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” perfectly captures the casually
cosmopolitan rhythms of expat life at its most bohemian and low-key
sybaritic. ... Reminiscent of the sun-kissed films of Eric Rohmer, “Ma
Belle, My Beauty” is a movie best appreciated simply by sinking into its
sensuous pleasures, rather than expecting narrative novelty or emotional
Indeed, what story there is in “Ma Belle, My Beauty” turns out to be
blandly conventional, despite its unconventional contours. The
relaxation that Hill conveys so well eventually gives way to lethargy,
as Bertie and Lane’s psychodrama plays itself out. Although Johnson and
Pepper are terrific actors, Hill hasn’t given them much to portray as
characters; the depths of their bond and betrayals are kept vexingly
Rather than a meditation on desire, “Ma Belle, My Beauty” becomes a
portrait of how people simultaneously crave intimacy and keep each other
at bay. Viewers may wish there were more to it, but what’s there is
teasingly intriguing. “Ma Belle, My Beauty” may be a mere bagatelle, but
it’s a diverting and attractive one.
Unrated. In English, French and Spanish with subtitles. Contains brief
strong language, nudity and sexuality. 93 minutes.
[Director ]Marion Hill ... feels stretched thin in the end product, and it’s the writing that ultimately suffers. The performances are wound tight and the setting is undeniably gorgeous, but Ma Belle, My Beauty feels uninterested in its characters’ motivations and their main source of conflict—how to manuever the complicated cogs of the polyamorous machine.
A Beautiful Depiction of Love in Its Many Variations
By Dan Skip Allen
I've been watching movies for quite a long time and I've seen a lot of films come out. Usually, you hear about great films because of word of mouth, but sometimes they slip under the radar. Ma Belle, My Beauty is one such film.
...[Marion] Hill demonstrates her ability to ramp up the tension throughout the film through various conversations of what the motivations between the women truly are. Why did certain people come back? To make up for previous mistakes or get into new relationships that tear down the previous ones? The dialogue works so well among all the cast. The actors can believe what they are saying. The passion that stems from it is incredible.
This is one of the most realistic films about love and its many variations I've seen in years. ...
Marion Hill Directs Delicate, Honest Romantic Drama
By Ferdosa Abdi
Director Marion Hill does a lot with a little to transport the audience to this place and to be with these characters through effective visual storytelling and sound design. It is as if Hill was a documentarian embedded amongst a lively community and just happened to have an interesting story unfold before her camera. ...
Hill does well to not force feed her audience the backstory for this throuple. Casual conversations between the characters reveal the three were in a polyamorous relationship — specifically, Bertie was dating Lane and Fred, who were not romantically involved with each other. Although Lane and Fred don’t ever get romantic and remain in a platonic friendship, there is mutual respect. For those who are unfamiliar with polyamory, this is perhaps the most straightforward depiction that doesn't try to justify any of these character’s choices or judges them.
...What’s beautiful about this film is the delicate and honest depiction of people grappling with their emotions and not necessarily going about their problems the “right” way. Many people are Bertie, bottling up tough emotions, withdrawing, and not seeking help. Many are Fred, outsourcing help, attempting to roll past any inconvenience with a smile on their face for the sake of those they care about. And many people are Lane, simply deflecting, running away, and being somewhat reckless with other people's feelings. ... This film is not just a love story, it’s a story about love.
One of the bigger disappointments in the film is the degree to which Hill misses the mark when it comes to the polyamorous relationship. Hill works so hard to create a script that doesn’t sensationalize a polyamorous relationship that the potential for deeper conflicts is zapped out of the narrative. There is no room for the relationship to breathe and no chance for nuances; this film could have broken ground, but instead, it fell flat.
Hill herself says polyamory is “a world in which respect and communication and self-love are the driving force. Those are things people in all relationships should be thinking about more. For me, it’s expanded how I move through the world generally.”
Dating multiple partners was hard enough before a pandemic. With
vaccines in arms, the community is adjusting to its new normal.
Kasia Popova /Adobe
...Now, with vaccines in arms, the community is starting to feel safe
enough to start dating again.
"This time last year, every visit with a partner was a complex calculation
of risk and timing," says Praveen, a Bay Area polyamory veteran of five
"We had to book Airbnbs out in the country to navigate one of my partner's
testing schedules as an essential worker."
...Partners had to ask themselves tough questions: Do we want to continue
our relationship virtually? Should we break up? When can I kiss you again?
Trust [is] the name of the game.... Nearly everyone asked variations of
"Are you vaccinated? Do you want to come over, or should we go for a
But in many ways, the poly community was better prepared for these
conversations than most.
Conversations about STD transmission are commonplace between
non-monogamous partners. The preventative measures that stop chlamydia
from coming home applied well to COVID-19. Frequent testing, open
conversations and non-judgmental disclosure are the cornerstone tools for
keeping all partners healthy and safe.
"We had a situation for a while where we all got tested for COVID-19 about
every other week. My primary partner and I would go once every two
weeks. Our partners were both getting tests weekly," said Eric.... "We
never spent time out of one another's homes. We got to be intimate quickly
because there literally was nothing else to do but watch Netflix and have
sex. Now we actually go out to places, have social gatherings and
introduce them to our friends."
...For many polyamorous people, the transition back to dating is as
difficult as stopping in the first place. Partners express increased
intensity in feelings of jealousy or anxiety after a long period without
"We're all trying to put the constellation of our relationships back
together while still being mindful that most of us are different than we
were a year ago," says Rachel, an Atlanta-based queer and polyamorous
I never planned on it, but it’s where I am, and more and more it
feels like family.
By Rebecca Jane Stokes
For the past two years, I have been the third member of a polycule ...
a cute name for a network of people who are connected through their
romantic partners in a polyamorous relationship. In our case, my
boyfriend has a girlfriend. She is not my girlfriend, but we do get
along really well.
When I started dating my boyfriend, I was on the rebound. ... His
profile was direct. He was in a polyamorous relationship with his
live-in girlfriend of eight years. That was something Becca the
Serious Dater would have viewed as a dealbreaker. But
Becca on the Rebound thought, “Eff it, we won’t be together long enough for any of that to even matter.” ...
The joke was on me: Rob and I connected in a real way, and we decided
to give the relationship a shot. I learned really fast that to Rob ―
and to any polyamorous person worth their salt ― openness and
communication are key. To that end, it was important to Rob that I
meet his other girlfriend pretty quickly. After about a week of
dating, he invited us both out to dinner where we got to know each
I anticipated a weirdness like none I had ever known before … but it
I kept telling myself that the second this felt strange or bad I was
done. It’s a mindset I still keep, and I’m still waiting to feel like
this is all too much for me. Feels like I’ll be waiting a while! ...
I’m living the non-monogamous life, and to be honest, it’s pretty
different from what I expected.
I like to describe non-monogamous living as an umbrella. That umbrella
covers all sorts of people who engage in anything other than
monogamous relationships: swingers, polyamorists, those in open
marriages, those in open relationships and more.
...When I stay at his place, I sleep in the same bed with him and his
other girlfriend. He’s in the middle (in utter heaven). We all think
female-male-female threesomes are hot, and we do from time to time
have sex all together, though it’s more common for us to have sex
separately, if adjacently, to each other.
We are all allowed to date whomever we want to date. If we are going
to have sex with someone with whom we aren’t in a committed
relationship, condoms are a must. If we plan on beginning a
relationship, we introduce that person into the dynamic relatively
quickly ― it just works easier for us. ... This is the relationship
that works best for me, and I’ll talk about this stuff to anyone who
...I have to say that when I want to talk about my boyfriend, I feel
exceptionally spoiled to have another woman I can turn to WHO TOTALLY
GETS IT! AND HIM! ...
Notice how she called polyamory just one thing under the umbrella of
consensual non-monogamy, alongside "swingers, those in open marriages,
those in open relationships, and more."
Good for her. I'm a lifelong word person; since 1973 the world has paid me a good living to edit
text to be more precise, clear, and incisive. So I was long concerned that
as the polyamory movement grew and popularized, the meaning
of "polyamory" could blur and come unmoored from our movement's powerful ideas, leaving no word to google them by.
I'm less worried now, because media new and old — under the watchful
tutelage and corrections by so many of you! — have been trained to get the
concepts right: if it's polyamory it's
fully informed, fully consensual, ands
carries an ethos of mutual respect and good will throughout a romantic network, at least as the ideal. Nowadays the media usually get this right
...Polyamory “is a form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM)
with emotionally intimate relationships among multiple people that can
also be sexual and/or romantic partners.” The whole enterprise
functions according to “shared agreements about sex and relationships”
between the people [says ] Elisabeth Sheff... “Dating as a
polyamorous person means you’re not looking for just one person to
share a romantic or sexual connection with.” Obviously, this
dynamic necessitates a lot of trust, communication, and consent
between all parties. If jealousy starts to arise, which is
understandable for most people, it’s likely to erode the trust
necessary for such an arrangement to function, so experienced poly
people in successful relationships become great at communicating what
they want and need from everyone involved. ...
Open relationships are a bit different, in that the term
usually applies to [less intertwined] sexual endeavors. ... Typically,
open relationships function according to strict rules . ...
Swinging typically involves a monogamous couple searching
together for a sexual partner who isn’t involved in their
relationship. ... Swinging can be a lifestyle unto itself. And in
fact, many of its adherents refer to it as exactly that. ... While it
definitely borrows some aspects from open relationships, swinging is
purely transactional and, as a result, naturally thrives within its
own particular communities.
“Swingers are typically heterosexual couples and individuals with a
variety of forms of ‘swapping’ or exchanging partners.” ...
While all of these relationship categories are contingent upon the
preferences of those involved, there’s one overarching theme uniting them: Trust. It’s imperative to be respectful and get the consent of
everyone involved in any relationship, no matter how many people are
● Sara Valta, Finnish cartoonist whom we have seen before, has started a weekly autobiographical Polyamory Comics about her communal vee. That link is to the English version, but
she's got a book of them coming out in Finnish.