Film - Princess

Princess

Chris Smith opens his festival reviewing notebook at Raindance 2015 by watching the darkly disturbing Princess...

12 year old Adar lives in Israel with her mother, Alma and her mother's affectionate boyfriend, Michael. Despite being a talented student she is struggling at school and her relationship with her mother is strained. She starts to spend more time at home and when Michael loses his job, they are nearly inseparable. Adar's only friend is Alan - a slightly older boy who looks strikingly like her. When Alan moves into their home, Michael's attentions are increasingly focussed on him, while simultaneously his relationship with Adar takes on a disturbing tone.

The subject of sexuality and children is a difficult one for obvious reasons, not least when that sexuality involves a family member. Written and directed by Tali Shalom Ezer, Princess explores an all-too-common situation experienced by millions of children world-wide. It blends fantasy and reality perfectly to tell a vibrant but deeply unpleasant story. Rich in symbolism, Shalom Ezer's work pulls no punches but deftly avoids becoming voyeuristic or exploitive - especially important here. The film's mise en scene is almost a second dialogue, saying far more than any character ever could. When dialogue is present, it's powerful and heartbreaking, from victim-blaming to hollow, stomach-churning expressions of love.

Shalom Ezer's direction is perfect, crafting outstanding performances from her small cast. Shira Haas plays Adar with a maturity far beyond her tender years. Ori Pfeffer is wonderful as the charmingly creepy Michael, imbuing into each of his scenes an intoxicating mix of fatherly adoration for Adar and perverse desires, while Karen Mor shines as the clearly-in-denial Alma. This is an intimate film with each scene seen through Adar's eyes, or watching Alan as he moves closer to Michael, or the intimacy between her parents.

Alan's purpose in Adar's life is unclear. Is he merely to provide comfort as her relationships with her parents turn increasingly sour? Is he a vessel for Adar to place her feelings about Michael onto, or is he a horrifying glimpse into her future? Princess offers little in the way of explanation or even closure but this, again, is all too real.

The traumas Adar is subjected to is affecting. It's impossible on a human level to not be repulsed by the corrupting touch of Michael or the perversion of his role as a father figure. It's impossible to separate Michael the pseudo-parent from Michael the abuser because the distinction between the two halves are blurry to the point of non-existence. Tragically however, such is Adar's alienation from her mother that Michael still manages to be the most caring of her parents even with his abusive tendencies. This confused duality is echoed by the direction, and is expertly shown in a very early scene where the audience cannot be entirely certain whether what they are watching is innocent, genuine affection to a child or something so much worse.

Princess is a challenging film about a challenging subject. It's a masterpiece of subtlety, brave and powerful, and raises some very uncomfortable questions.

Image - Raindance