Saturday, 14 June 2014

REVIEW - BELLE (AMMA ASANTE)


A costume drama that manages to remain stiff, rather than just stately, despite the passion it manufactures from its historical setting. This gravely didactic film is directed by Amma Asante with alternate delicacy and vulgarity, though she elicits some nice emotive moments from Belle's more animated passages. The film is, alas, blighted with a heinous screenplay, insistent on undercutting each of Asante's pleasingly empathetic directorial touches with some clumsy declaration that frequently renders Belle a particularly glossy, particularly improbable, history lesson. This only makes sense in the guise of melodrama, a genre which Asante seems reluctant to court yet unable to resist. Like her subject, she is bound to convention, but willing to acquiesce to impropriety in the name of love. That'd be a worthy pursuit were it not for the laughable casting and ponderous plotting, which sees this intelligent, inspiring heroine's story largely reduced to a romantic dilemma between two square-jawed hunks. All in all, it's the kind of approach that belittles its characters and its audience equally, while we sense that a more complex story, a more ambiguous one yet actually sturdier for that, lies beneath all this bathetic hyperbole. Asante does have a natural feel for the story's emotional landscape, and though the intention and the conclusion alike may stink of crass Hollywood cosiness, she's able to induce a sizeable degree of care and concern in her viewers, not least due to able performances from her accomplished ensemble of actors. Handsome production values are exploited with a deal more sense and sensitivity than in many similar period films. Would that I could comment similarly on the film's themes, which, though noble, are nonetheless tiresome the umpteenth time over.