FilmFestivals.com-reporter Lisa Nesselson schreef in juni 2000:
Producer Frederic Sichler, Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Melvin Van Peebles
Director Melvin Van Peebles
Screenplay Melvin Van Peebles
Photo Philippe Pavans de Ceccatty
Editor Catherine D'Hoir
Production Design Kim-Kim Nezzar
Costumes Claire Gerard Hirne
Music Melvin Van Peebles
Cast Andrea Ferrol, Jacques Boudet, Meiji U Tum'si, Claude Perron, Frank Delhaye, Herman Van Veen, Michel Dussauze
Running time 105 min
Distribution Euripide Distribution
Versatile indie filmmaker and peripatetic elder statesman Melvin Van Peebles puts a sly, darkly amusing spin on prejudice and racism in Le Conte du Ventre Plein. Dubbed Bellyful in English, it's the twisted fairy tale of what happens when a sweet young black woman is befriended by an upstanding middle aged white couple in a small French town in the summer of 1967. Van Peebles took advantage of the fexibility of Digital Video to convey his truly original story of how far some people will go to maintain a hypocritical facade of respectability.
Loretta (Andrea Ferreol) and Henri (Jacques Boudet) are all smiles when they visit an orphanage specialized in refugees from French colonies. Their only daughter has been called away to tend a sick aunt in Toulouse and their hands are full trying to serve the lunch trade at their bistro "Le Ventre Plein" ('The Full Belly'). They estimate their daughter will be away for "about 9 months" and are highly enthused about offering a live-in waitressing position to a strong black girl.
Diamantine (Meiji U Tum'si), a good-natured young woman who's about to turn 18, seems perfect for the job. She heads off from the only home she's ever known with the director's advice still ringing in her ears: "Life is just taking one virtuous step after another." Her surrogate parents couldn't be more solicitous. And yet, there's something distinctly odd about their approach to Diamantine. For example, Loretta obliges her to replace her modest dress with a model so short it barely covers her upper thighs. If Diamantine buttons her blouse to the top, Loretta unbuttons the first few buttons
One evening, the couple ask their grateful charge if she'd be willing to repay their kindness by pretending to be pregnant. At first shocked by the idea, the pious girl agrees to go along with what she's been told is "a joke," wearing layers of padding under her short skirts. An unwed mother-to-be -- and a black girl at that -- is about as shocking an element as one can imagine in a small Christian town, circa 1967. The "joke" drags on for several months. About 45 minutes into the film, Loretta and Henri reveal their true colors and Van Peebles takes us into fascinating and always darkly humorous territory Loretta can barely contain her excitement when their Flemish friend Jan (Herman Van Veen) shows up at the house. Jan keeps asking about his friends' daughter but is told that she's visiting Loretta's sick sister. "Sister? I didn't know you had a sister!" says Jan.
We eventually learn that Loretta doesn't have a sister but she does have a secret in the attic. Loretta and Henri have concocted a far-fetched solution to a family dilemma that would tarnish their reputations as pillars of the community.
Van Peebles makes use of the film's perfectly recreated cultural backwater to slyly skewer hypocrisy. The actors are very good, with Ferreol and U Tum'si standouts. The picture keeps viewers on their toes with some wacky detours into flashbacks but every frame speaks to contemporary audiences. This is a tale that enlightens without preaching and entertains along the way.