THAT LOVELY GIRL
Hebrew title: Harhek Mi’headro
Written and directed by Keren Yedaya
Running time: 95 minutes.
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information.
Keren Yedaya’s That Lovely Girl combines two of the most unpleasant themes possible – incest and bulimia – and does so in a way that is both cringe-inducing and mind-numbingly dull.
For anyone still reading, you will also want to know that these shopworn subjects – both of which were old news to viewers of TV movies-of-the-week 20 years ago – are used purely to shock and draw attention. The film has nothing new – or even old – to say about either topic.
The one aspect of the movie that is slightly different from what you have seen dozens of times before is that the incest victim is an adult, who continues her relationship with her father voluntarily. I imagine that writer/director Yedaya, who based the movie on a novel, would say that the film shows how the daughter has been so badly abused that she cannot break away from her father. If it’s news to you that severe child abuse warps the victims, then by all means, see That Lovely Girl. If you see it, you will get to watch the father (Tzahi Grad) and his daughter, Tami (Ma’ayan Turjeman), engaging in various sex acts; and then, while he is at work, you can look on as she binges on sweets and then vomits. And vomits.
And, again, vomits.
Sometimes he berates her about gaining weight, then sodomizes her violently. When she’s alone, if she takes a break from vomiting, it’s to cut herself and to carve the word “Die” into her arm. I’m not kidding – I couldn’t make this stuff up. Google the film’s title and the word “loathsome,” and you will get a bunch of hits from reviewers at the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie premiered.
Among the critics at the Jerusalem Film Festival, where I saw this film, opinion was split evenly on which aspect of the movie was more disgusting – the incest or the vomiting. This is a very personal decision, and one that each disgusted viewer will have to make on his or her own.
I’m going to make a case here that the incest is more disturbing because Grad is a good actor and one who works very frequently. In the past few years, he has played a morally challenged entrepreneur (on the TV shows Lost in Africa and Lost in Asia); the father of a murdered daughter bent on revenge (Big Bad Wolves); a rabbi (Eyes Wide Open); a Fagin-esque exploiter of young runaways (Someone to Run With); the father of an autistic teenager (The Flood) – and many more. Now every time a promo for Lost in Asia comes on television, I am forced to think of this damn movie, and I will have to think of it every time I see him on screen, which will likely be often.
Yedaya is a well-established filmmaker, whose first feature, Or (2004), the story of a daughter (Dana Ivgy) who tries to stop her AIDSinfected mother (Ronit Elkabetz) from working as a prostitute, won the Camera d’Or Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was well acted and effective, although it was a bit relentless. Her second film, Jaffa (2009), was a one-dimensional Romeo and Juliet story about a Jewish-Arab couple and, at the time, I wrote it off as a sophomore slump.
But now I think that Or was a fluke and that Jaffa and That Lovely Girl represent her capacity as a director more accurately.
This was supposed to a breakthrough year for women directors in Israel, and Talya Lavie has had a triumph with Zero Motivation.
But That Lovely Girl reminds me of a line by film critic Pauline Kael, from her review of Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974), a movie about a concentration camp victim who meets the Nazi who raped her, years after the war, and has a sadomasochistic relationship with him: “The Night Porter was directed by a woman, Liliana Cavani – which proves no more than that women can make junk just like men.”