Film

In ‘Princess,’ an Israeli Girl’s Search for Herself Becomes Vital, Challenging Cinema

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Once every three years, the Hebrew month of Adar repeats to accommodate for the Jewish calendar’s lunar cycle. On these leap years, this “lucky month” occurs twice, with Adar I preceding Adar II.

Adar is also the name of the twelve-year-old girl (Shira Haas) who carries Tali Shalom Ezer’s directorial debut, Princess. At first, Adar is alone, an only child paired with her gorgeous, flirtatious single mother, Alma (Keren Mor). Alma’s boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer, wonderfully unsettling in his kindness and urgent obliviousness), showers them both with an affection that mystifies and makes the other jealous. What strange games is my daughter playing? Why is my mother mesmerized?

With few words, huge eyes, and lanky limbs she somehow makes sarcastic, Haas communicates her disdain, fear, and curiosity — and her abject dislike for school. She’s brilliant but she won’t attend, and she already knows that adults won’t follow through, shrugging off the threat of expulsion that opens the film. One truant day, wandering aimlessly — though it doesn’t feel aimless, Ezer’s tight camerawork and Adar’s slow, patient gaze both absorbing and making crucial the nuances of light, color, and texture — Adar meets Alan, a boy who, like her, has a gray T-shirt and messy shoulder-length brown hair; they steal more matching shirts from a shop and break into twin smiles.

Immersed in the neutral palette of the film, their likeness is striking and compelling: These two things are just like everything else, but somehow most like each other. Alan, homeless, moves into Adar’s house and shares her bed. He brings new eyes to what she sees: Michael’s inappropriate interest in Adar’s body, its changes. Alan flies into rages Adar can’t access; the two children touch each other’s bodies, both prepubescent, so similar. The sloping plot of the film is all happenstance, loosely connected scenes strung together, a life taking shape. Michael stops calling Adar “prince” and starts calling her “princess” instead. Sweetness alongside the rage, the silence. It’s hard to keep watching. Don’t stop.

Princess

Directed by Tali Shalom Ezer

Breaking Glass Pictures

Opens May 27, Cinema Village

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