'That Lovely Girl' ('Loin de mon pere'): Cannes Review

That Lovely Girl Cannes Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

That Lovely Girl Cannes Film Still - H 2014

Misery upon misery piles up on the protagonist, but the result is oddly flat. 

Israeli writer-director Keren Yedaya’s third feature takes a controversial look at incest and masochism.

In Israeli writer-director Keren Yedaya’s third feature, That Lovely Girl (Loin de Mon Pere), an adaptation of a novel by Shez, the female protagonist Tami (newcomer Maayan Turjeman) has got a raw deal. Not only does she have bulimia, but this socially isolated woman is also a self-harmer, whose emotional issues are ruthlessly manipulated by her physically, sexually and psychologically abusive lover Moshe (Tzahi Grad) to his advantage. To top it all, Moshe is also her father. And then, just to add insult to injury, while trying to escape his tyranny, she ends up being gang raped.

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Needless to say, it’s not an easy film to watch, but Yedaya strives to avoid exploitation, stripping the film's style down to a social-realist minimalism. Unfortunately, the end result sometimes feels clunky while the obliqueness -- and bleakness -- of the script withholds viewer satisfaction. Yedaya’s reputation on the back of her previous features Or (My Treasure) and Jaffa should ensure further festival exposure after the film’s Cannes premiere, but distribution prospects beyond Israel will be much trickier.

The first act, perhaps self-consciously, recalls Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) as long, unbroken takes observe twentysomething Tami going about her domestic routines in between candy binges as she waits for Moshe to come home from work. When they have sex, it’s usually short, vicious and preceded by an argument, although it’s clear that Tami has been brutalized into a masochistic state of abasement so that she longs for his abuse, for her the only kind of love she knows. Pain and pleasure have become horribly entwined, and some viewers clinging to received ideas about incest and child abuse will be scandalized by a scene, shot in murky close-ups, where Tami has an orgasm while copulating with Moshe.

When it becomes clear that Moshe is now seeing another woman, Iris (Tal Ben Bina), and even insists on bringing her home to celebrate Passover and have a sleepover (“You’ll like her! She has a great sense of humor,” he promises), Tami becomes intensely jealous and runs off into the night. She joins gang of youths drinking on a Tel Aviv beach, and makes it clear to them by her total lack of resistance that she doesn’t mind if they take turns screwing her in broad daylight, a scene inspired by a real-life local news story according to the film’s press notes. The framing by Yedaya and DoP Laurent Brunet occludes the view of the gang bang through beach barriers to dilute the voyeurism, but the full horror is still redolent via the callous dialogue overheard from the men.

Having reached rock bottom, Tami finally finds a way out of her pit of despair when kindly Samaritan Shuli (Yael Abecassis, like Grad, a well-known Israeli actor) offers her shelter and emotional support. But it’s also at this point that the film sputters with a lack of clarity about Shuli’s motivations (there’s the vaguest hint that she may be a lesbian interested in Tami herself), while Tami’s long-delayed assertion of agency feels too timid to provide any sense of closure.

The use of zooms and an ill-advised fantasy sequence play with the conventions of melodrama, but without fully committing. That can’t be said, however, of the core cast who give rich, sustained performances, especially Turjeman who’s a real find and pulls off some bravura moments, like managing to cry while stuffing her face with rice at the same time in arguably the film’s most haunting scene.

The film’s title has been confusingly listed variously as Loin de mon pere, the archly ironic That Lovely Girl, and Far From His Absence, the last being the title of the original novel. Perhaps distributors in some markets might exploit echoes with another study of a young woman’s misery and try Tami, Based on a Novel by Shez.

Production companies: Transfax Films Production, Bizibi, Riva Filmproduktion (Allemagne)

Cast: Maayan Turjeman, Tzahi Grad, Yael Abecassis, Tal Ben Bina

Director: Keren Yedaya

Screenwriter: Keren Yedaya, adapted from a novel by Shez

Producers: Marek Rozenbaum, Michael Rozenbaum, Jérôme Bleitrach, Emmanuel Agneray, Michael Eckelt

Executive producers: Dan Gurfinkel

Director of photography: Laurent Brunet

Production designer: Eyal Elhadad

Costume designer: Li Alembik-Ofri Barel

Editor: Arik Lahav-Leibovich

Sales: Other Angle Pictures

No rating, 100 minutes