The film raises intriguing questions. How do they know whether Natasha is telling the truth? Has the young girl been inadvertently influenced by the Bowman’s kinky explorations, aka “sexual deviancy”? Could it be that, having found one of their pornographic tapes, she concocted her troubling story (there’s a reason for that opening shot, see)? If Natasha is lying, is Emily’s dangerous daytime job – she’s a documentary filmmaker of war zones – partly to blame? On the flipside, the notion of a four-year-old making something like this up is preposterous. Is Joel the Politician so desperate to protect his public image that he’s willing to disregard a horrific act potentially performed by his son? Could his own porn addiction be the cause of all this?
This ambiguity that Bentham maintains throughout the feature is crucial to the entire thing working, and he pulls it off with aplomb. Setting an excellent example for aspiring filmmakers who strive to achieve a lot with a little, Bentham wisely keeps the focus on the razor-sharp characters and dialogue. The claustrophobic, heat-stricken setting only adds to the accumulating tension. He unravels things gradually, peeling away layer after layer of character background, motivation and complexity to reveal a potentially-insoluble dilemma. The fact that they’re friends complicates matters, making it personal. The fact that it’s their children makes it even more so. No one’s willing to budge. It all hinges on the story of a four-year-old girl.
“Setting an excellent example for aspiring filmmakers who strive to achieve a lot with a little…keeps the focus on the razor-sharp characters and dialogue.”
Bentham elicits perfectly calibrated, nuanced performances from his entire cast. His effective use of slow motion – coupled with the otherworldly soundtrack – adds a distinctive stylistic touch to the proceedings, complementing the overall narrative. He makes a wise choice in (almost) never actually showing Natasha or Ethan, which could have tipped the film into “distasteful” and/or “obvious” territory. My favorite moment may be the one where Bek, all torn up, stares right into the camera, almost pleading with us to help her resolve the issue. It’s a risky but effective move – among many – that pays off.
Another film Disclosure made me think of – though completely different in tone – was John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. Bentham’s film is similarly about subtly-exchanged glances, things that are implied and left unsaid, the implications of an accusation, the power play between sexes and classes, and the real meaning of “truth”. It marks the arrival of a talent to watch.
Disclosure screened at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
"…a unique, highly relevant gem that revolves around a complex quandary"