Australia ׀ South Africa
In 1999 Disgrace, a novel written by J.M. Coetzee, won the Booker Prize and would later be named as one of the greatest novels written in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century. This was his second Booker-Prize winning novel and in doing so he became the first writer to ever win the award more than once. He has only been matched by Peter Carey since. He went on to be shortlisted again last year. Coetzee was also named as a Nobel Laureate for literature in 2003. So, why this brief history lesson? Well, it’s important to know how highly esteemed and how regarded the quality of the source material is when looking at Jacob’s filming of the adaptation. And it is for this reason why when one sits down to watch this Australian-South African co-production they should be appalled by the ineptitude evident in Anna Maria Monticelli’s adaptation.
David Lurie is a professor at a university in Cape Town when he is faced with a career-breaking situation after he is found out for having a seemingly coerced sexual relationship with one of his students. Escaping the hubbub of the crisis he takes refuge with his daughter on her farm. Lucy has recently ended her relationship with her partner and David appears an interesting if not completely welcome visitor to break the monotony of the coming-to-terms with the end of the relationship. Lucy lives a simple life, farming off her land and working with her black African neighbour, Petrus, who is also farming the land. In this post-Apartheid setting the situation becomes catastrophic when a vicious attack takes place that leaves everyone’s motives in question.
Everything about this film screams misunderstanding. From the casting of Malkovich, the lack of investigation into the actual relationship between Lucy and David, the lack of tension developed throughout the main incident of the film, the poor performances from the subsidiary characters and the complete and utter waste of Ebouaney in the pivotal but misused role of Petrus. It’s as if the people behind Disgrace have jumped on the most potentially troublesome parts of the story without actually looking beyond the surface. Coetzee’s novel works because of his insight into the people that actually exist in the situations, not simply because of the occurrences that take place. This is completely missing from Jacobs’ film.
Sure there are interesting elements and the cinematography is nicely put together but not a single thing about the film adaptation of Disgrace sounds as genuine. This lack of sincerity leaves it as one of the worst films of the year, which is made all the more disappointing considering its source material.