Friday, July 8, 2016

Princess









Writer/director Tali Shalom-Ezer
















PRINCESS         B                
Israel  (92 mi)  2014  d:  Tali Shalom-Ezer

You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys

And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display 'cause

You don't own me
Don't try to change me in any way
You don't own me
Don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay

I don't tell you what to say
I don't tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That's all I ask of you

I'm young and I love to be young
I'm free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

And don't tell me what to do
Oh, don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display

I don't tell you what to say
Oh, don't tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That's all I ask of you

I'm young and I love to be young
I'm free and I love to be free
To live

—“You Don’t Own Me”  LESLEY GORE "YOU DON'T OWN ME" 1963 HD - YouTube (2:30)

An intriguing Israeli film that starts out as a meaningful dialogue on gender identity and confusion, like something akin to the French film Tomboy (2011), where in this case young 12-year old Adar, beautifully played by first time 16-year old actress Shira Haas, moves seamlessly back and forth between male and female roles, where she’s young enough that no one would notice, but the candid and outwardly appealing nature of her personality drives the film, moving in and out of various psychological states of mind.  What’s immediately striking is the effect of her parents, her mother Alma (Keren Mor) along with her current boyfriend Michael (Ori Pfeffer), a substitute for her real father, as her parents are separated, whose sexual openness is hard not to notice, as they freely romp around their tiny apartment in various states of undress, seemingly without boundaries, observed sleeping together with their door open, where Adar tends to crawl in with them from time to time, often in the middle of sexual activity.  While they seem like a close-knit family, appearances are deceiving, initially reflected in a parent-teacher meeting at a school for gifted kids where Adar, an obviously bright student, is failing her grades by simply not showing up in class any more.  Rather than act surprised, her mother agrees that the school should probably kick her out, as that’s the only reasonable position to take.  As they’re leaving afterwards, her mother congratulates herself on using such a clever tactic, suggesting the school has no intentions of removing her, but she simply refuses to address what her daughter spends her time doing all day long when she’s not in school.  Alma works long hours at the hospital as a nurse, sometimes doing double shifts, while Michael is himself a teacher, so no one is at home watching over her.  Curiously, when Michael is involved with physical horseplay with Adar, he calls her “Prince,” which generates a certain amount of confusion with the audience, especially considering the title, while Adar herself seems to withdraw into a world of alienation, where much of the film takes place in a moody, dreamlike atmosphere enhanced by a haunting electronic soundtrack composed by Ishai Adar that plays throughout, creating a probing, psychologically unsettled world.  While the brilliant performance of Haas is outstanding, a remarkable discovery, especially considering the adult complexity of the subject matter, offering an intense internalized portrait, the music is equally exquisite.

What’s surprising is the uncomfortable and often disturbing direction the film takes, where Michael is fired from his job, becoming more involved with troubling behavior with Adar, becoming downright creepy at times when he uses her to express a kind of uncontrolled sexual idealization.  This seems to have a suffocating and stifling psychological effect on Adar, who seemingly has no place to turn, yet the film cleverly and provocatively uses a cover version of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” where the lyrics become a substitute for her impressionistic yet rebellious state of mind.  This is surprisingly sophisticated stuff for a young 12-year old, veering into controversial territory that would be forbidden in American films.  Wandering aimlessly on the roof of her building, moving precariously closer to the edge where suicide looms, one wonders what’s going through her mind.  What she spots is a bit mindboggling, as it’s a male version of her, a startling look-alike in the form of Alan, who physically resembles her (played by Adar Zohar-Hanetz, a non-professional who was discovered by the director while simply walking down the street).  The two take to one another like long lost friends, instantly doing everything together, even buying identical clothes, where it becomes difficult to tell them apart.  When her mother finds them wandering around at night, she brings them both home, where Adar introduces her new friend by informing her parents Alan will be living with them from now on, as they will share a bedroom.  The two remain inseparable, constantly smiling, showing a kind of giddy happiness with each other, becoming that missing, long-lost answered prayer that people can only dream of, where they each seem to fill in the missing pieces for one another.  It grows more serious when the two kids start to explore their sexual curiosities, where Alan was discovered as a sidekick to a male prostitute, where his real background remains an open question.  Simultaneously, Michael is attracted to Alan, finding little reason to hide his growing interest.  In one of the strangest scenes imaginable, Michael brings Adar to what looks like an abandoned drive-in movie theater, which is now a cesspool of illicit sexual activity where couples hookup and have open sex at night on the premises, actually gesturing simulated sexual activity in front of her, which freaks her out, growing instantly disgusted, where you have to wonder why anybody would do such a thing.  Later she discovers Michael actually having sex with Alan, causing her to move into her mother’s bedroom, where she asks her, “Do you want to see the worst thing in the world?” urging her to take a look at what’s happening in the other room, but her mother doesn’t budge from her position, turning over and going back to sleep.

Without a doubt, the film only grows more painfully acute, becoming an unflinching portrayal of sexual abuse, though it explores the darkest territory by taking us inside Adar’s head, where her mood swings and emotional confusion grow more wildly upsetting, though she has no words to explain what’s happening to her, filled instead with what appears to be a split personality, taking refuge where she can, inventing a dense mirror universe that closely resembles her own, where fantasy and reality intersect.  Nothing is straightforward, where the cinematography by Radek Ładczuk, who also filmed the horror film THE BABADOOK (2014), similarly conveys a sinister presence lurking all around her, where this is every bit as much of a horror film, yet it understandably treads a fine line of avoiding exploitation.  Some will argue it crosses the line, offering excessively sexualized imagery, while others will think it subtly sidesteps taking the issue head-on, suggesting rather than showing, but it’s clear what’s happening to this 12-year old girl is starkly terrifying.  Her savvy and precocious personality are established early on, showing guile and a willful spirit, where it’s not hard to imagine that every single frame of this film is projected from her point of view, as the camera never leaves her, but stays by her side the entire way.  Rather than abandon her in her darkest hour, the film is brave enough to follow the entire journey, taking us into the bleakest unknown, where few will not be disgusted, though leaving us with plenty to imagine.  Still, Adar is a fully developed subject, the fictional creation of the writer/director, but her survival skills couldn’t be more provocatively presented, where the remarkable skills of this young actress exceeds all expectations, as we can’t for a second take our eyes off her, making this a truly remarkable and memorable experience, albeit harrowing and painfully disturbing.  There are repeated moments when Adar attempts to get closer to her mother, each one a futile effort, as well as a touching moment when she runs into her actual father, whose kindness and affection for her is unmistakable, but she’s grown too distant to be able to trust him either.  Instead she remains stuck in an emotional void throughout the film, where no one comes to miraculously save her except Alan, who can easily be seen as a product of her own imagination, withdrawing only when she’s taken from him what she can, finally standing her own ground, where there’s a curious musical offering, a final farewell to the spirit of Alan that veers into the mystic, sounding strangely psychedelic, “I never thought of changing/But now I can’t forget you/The days are lost without you…. As far as the eye can see/Is much too far for you to be.”  It’s a unique expression of bravery, giving voice to the voiceless, both by the filmmaker and the character she has created, where the film won the Best Israeli Feature, Best Music, and Best Cinematography awards at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival—to that one could also add best young discovery.

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