DISGRACE (Australia/South Africa 2008), 120 min.
Directed by Steve Jacobs. With John Malkovich, Natalie Becker, Eriq Ebouaney, Jessica Haines. Based on a novel by J.M. Coetzee.
John Maxwell Coetzee, South African novelist and essayist (now an Australian citizen), and recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the most distinguished and highly acclaimed writers in the world today. His novel Disgrace, published in 1999, earned him his second Booker prize. In his own country, however, the reception of this novel was much more varied. It was considered highly controversial, with the ruling party, the ANC, issuing an official denunciation of the novel, accusing him of “subliminal racism” and of dealing in stereotypes about black male sexual violence. On the other side were those who complained that Coetzee was convicting all white South Africans of “collective guilt” and telling them that emigration was the only solution.
Disgrace is set in post-apartheid South Africa and tells the story of David Lurie, a white professor of literature in Cape Town who loses his job after he has an affair with a female student and refuses to make an appropriate public statement of repentance. He leaves Cape Town to join his daughter Lucy, who has bought a small farm in the Eastern Cape and is trying to get by growing flowers and vegetables for sale and running a kennel. When a brutal attack by three young Africans leaves Lucy gang-raped (and pregnant) and Lurie with serious burn-marks, the drama comes to a head, with father and daughter reacting very differently and taking very different views on how to handle the situation.
Disgrace takes up a number of big topics – crime and rape, sex and exploitation, land ownership and historical wrongs, political correctness, even the treatment of animals is an important theme. To what extent the film version manages to keep and convey the condensed atmosphere of the novel will be a topic for the discussion in connection with the film screening at Verdensteatret.