Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed May 25, 2016 10:31 pm 
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Boundary issues in Tel Aviv

We can guess what's going to happen from the opening scene, where a man and woman and 12-year-old girl are in bed together one morning and a steamy, erotic mood hangs over them that's a mix of titillating and cringe-inducing. It turns out the woman, Alma (Keren Mor), is the mother of Adar (Shira Haas, actually 16 when this was shot), and the younger man, Michael (Ori Pfeffer), is Alma's live-in boyfriend. Her husband is a tall, schlubby, well- off man Alma calls an "idiot" who's not around though Adar meets up briefly with him once outside somewhere near his car. It might be a glimpse of responsibility and normal boundaries, except that he seems to accept too passively the fact that he rarely sees his daughter.

The hothouse atmosphere is pumped up when Michael announces he's not working as a teacher anymore and starts being home all the time, while Adar, already a lazy student at a school for the gifted, gives up attending class and is at home too when not out wandering around. Then things get kinkier, and vaguely metaphorical, when Ada brings home a cute, androgynous street boy named Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz) and he starts living with them. Alan is a bit taller and older than Adar, but his long hair and general look make him seem almost her twin; hence the metaphor. He may be just her male doppelganger, another provocation, barely real.

The young lookalikes sleep together, but it's platonic. The danger comes from Michael, who not only seems polymorphous, but in the meandering action gradually emerges as sexually drawn to Alan, with eventually dire results. His relation with Adar is inappropriate too, with his gender confusion having in retrospect been clear in the way Michael in private has been addressing Adar with the pet name "prince," instead of "princess."

Where Princess excels is in the naturalness and spontaneity of the intimate ensemble acting. Much of the time the initial trio show humorous and playful as well as amorous feelings toward each other that seem improvisational and natural. Except that it's all so close to borderline inappropriate from the outset. Alma is a contradiction. On the one hand she's the family's voice of "authority" or "duty" and a hard-working hospital employee, perhaps an MD (her exact rank not made quite clears), often working very late at night. But once back home she plunges into the sensual, lazy mood. She is reproachful toward Adar for her defiance and laziness, but also indulgent, and forgiving toward the equally lazy Michael. She and Michael welcome Alan into the household without question though the boy's origins are unknown; he might have a background as a street hustler; one of his pals clearly is. Alma and Michael's loud lovemaking disturbs Alan and Adar, but Alan jokingly mocks sex with Adar, which, perhaps showing his greater sophistication, also somewhat clears the air. But soon he won't be joking any more.

The film's consistent mood and look can't quite make up for its weak grasp of the actual. The effort to represent an experimental, risky family unit is worthwhile, no doubt, but the director, Tali Shalom-Ezer, in her sureness, impressive at first, begins to disappoint because she provides so little outside context for events. The narrow range of action makes things seem repetitious and confusing. This isn't helped by the intimate, up-close filming and the similarity of the two kids. At one point I wasn't sure whether an act of intimacy involved Alan or Adar.

The ending is abrupt and far too easy, though it seems a response to my repeated internal question throughout, "Why doesn't Adar just settle down and go back to school?" The slow emergence of this film into US release can be explained by the lack of realism but more than that the presence of scenes mainstream viewers will find shocking or unpleasant. Still, this is in its way bold and innovative filmmaking.

Princess, 92 mins. debuted in July 2014 at Jerusalem but showed at 2015 Sundance; seven other festivals. Slated for US theatrical release starting 27 May 2016 (New York and Los Angeles); also Internet VOD starting 24 May.

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