A royal shame

The Israeli film ‘Princess’ is downright distasteful.

By
March 24, 2015 11:26
3 minute read.
‘Princess’

The Israeli film ‘Princess’. (photo credit: PR)

 
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PRINCESS
Hebrew title: Princess
Written and directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer
With Keren Mor, Shira Haas, Ori Pfeffer
Running time: 92 minutes
In Hebrew.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.

An annoyingly pretentious movie, Tali Shalom-Ezer’s Princess uses pedophilia as a deus ex machina – it titillates us with the upcoming sexual act while pretending to show the awful consequences of a mother leaving her daughter unsupervised with the mother’s young live-in boyfriend. Princess wants us to savor our disapproval and enjoy the build-up to the sexual abuse at the same time. The result is distasteful beyond words.

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The basic plot is simple. Adar (Shira Haas ), a 12-year-old girl who hates school and rarely goes, lives with her mother, Alma (Keren Mor), a nurse who works long hours, and her mother’s boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer), a teacher who loses his job early on. Adar and Alma are always bickering, but Adar and Michael, who are home alone together a great deal, get along great. They horse around a lot and are very physical with each other.

It’s pretty easy to see, after just a few minutes, just where Princess is headed. To drag out the suspense over when the pedophilia will became blatant, rather than latent, the director/screenwriter has added a highly symbolic subplot about a feral boy, Alan (Adar Zohar Hanetz), whom Adar picks up on the street and takes home. Alan looks strikingly similar to Adar, and for the rest of the movie the two dress alike. Is he real (and are the matching T-shirts they wear for most of the movie real) or a figment of Adar’s imagination? While you ponder that, you’ll realize it’s actually a good thing Alan is in the movie because if he weren’t, the entire film would consist of Alma and Adar screaming at each other; Adar crawling into bed with her mother and Michael; Adar wandering the streets aimlessly; and Michael being inappropriately physical with Adar. When Alan enters, we get to see the two tweens making silly faces at each other, and for a few moments there is no threat of rape or monotony of mother and daughter bickering.

Although in America in the 1990s virtually every TV movie involved a deep, dark secret that was invariably incest (usually father-daughter incest), Israeli movies have only relatively recently caught on to the idea that underage sex confers a certain gravitas on movie plots. If a movie is about a girl being abused, well, it must be serious. It must matter.

It must be “important.” And yes, child abuse is a real problem, one that is serious. But using child abuse to give direction to a movie’s plot and to add titillation to an otherwise aimless film is insulting to its real victims and to the audience.

A few years ago, I began noticing Israeli movies with this theme. The recent Ben Zaken by Efrat Corem features a father and daughter who share a bed, although mercifully nothing sexual happens; Keren Yedaya’s That Lovely Girl looks – in gruesome detail – into an adult incest victim who still has a sexual relationship with her father, which drives her to bulimia; Vidi Bilu’s Plasticine has a character who is portrayed as a child molester, and you wait through the entire movie for him to be left alone with the young heroine, which happens at the end; and Hagar Ben-Asher’s The Slut is about a mother whose boyfriend rapes her daughter because he is angry at the mother.



It’s a dispiriting trend – all these movies (except Ben Zaken) use child sexual abuse in a symbolic and artificial way.

One unexpected by-product of the spate of movies about incest and child abuse is that if your struggles as a parent run more to getting your kids to do their homework and turn off the video games after a couple of hours, you will feel like a superstar compared to these abusive and/or neglectful on-screen parents.

The actors in Princess do their best with thankless roles. Mor spends most of the movie scowling, which isn’t anyone’s best look. Pfeffer, who can currently be seen on the television series Dig, is utterly convincing as a self-involved child predator. Haas, who was wonderful as a young ultra- Orthodox girl in the television series Shtisel, is the movie’s one saving grace. She is expressive, natural and charming. She’s an actress to watch.

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