Saturday, September 29, 2007
PRINCESAS (2005) dvd............8.5/10
PRINCESAS (2005), by Spanish filmmaker Fernando Leon de Aranoa takes a raw humanistic approach to a lifestyle that can and has been easily overstated and shallowly probed by lesser directors. However it is a misapprehension to think that PRINCESAS is ‘about prostitution’ when it is more so a film whose characters happen to be prostitutes, and by default reveals much about their world. PRINCESAS casts its “whores” in an even and unvarnished light without being either entirely pessimistic or propagandistic, lending it dexterity and credibility. The film’s dilemmas are universal, its character relationships genuine, and its rhythm is in pulse with the bustle of traffic in the streets.
The main character Caye, whose street name is Lima (headway into her identity subversion), is a beautiful but guarded woman, with competing qualities of sadness, fortitude, and a brimming spirit withheld. Candela Pena deserves all the accolades she received and more for her dynamism and quietly heartrending performance. Caye works as a prostitute, intently saving all her earnings (for what we don’t know, and neither does she). Instead of tricking on the streets she works out of a tiny hair salon with a band of likeminded, if not elitist, working girls. This seems like a peculiar life decision considering her upper middle class background. She never elucidates her motivation explicitly, but she needn’t for our purposes. Along with an unwanted influx of foreign prostitutes comes Zulema, a Dominican woman whom Caye befriends in spite of being her lower caste competition. They forge a tender bond amidst dramatic circumstances, which becomes a kind of active inspiration for Caye. Something to think about for a person who has “never had anything happen to her worth remembering.”
Caye reveals in her expressions, and sometimes in words, her subverted attitudes, her existential curiosities, and desires without realizing from how deep a place they come. She tells Zulema about how princesses get homesick for their kingdom and cant stay away for too long. “Remember, princesses are so sensitive they can die of nostalgia.” Caye’s kingdom is her unabridged identity, and she has been at its compromise for too long. She restrains her desires, which makes her cry at their mention, but she restrains the tears too. Zulema’s kingdom is her son. Though the film offers much of its concerns to Zulema, (saving money for her child back home, caught in the grips of a dead end abusive situation over her ‘papers,’ all the while writhing in separation anxiety), she always feels a bit transitory, almost ethereal. Therefore our mind gravitates to Caye, for it seems that even Zulema’s suffering exists so that Caye can heal within, in part, by healing without. I think that history has proven beyond doubt that mutual suffering unites with far greater strengths than mutual rejoice, and that wartime heralds an immediacy and authenticity like no other time. For this reason, the abruptness of Zulema and Caye’s friendship is not surprising. But in all fairness, one can find a kindred spirit even on a battlefield.
From its opening frames PRINCESAS boasts a gritty but sensitive story which delves into the pains of self-deceit and the relegating of ones petitions. In this broader context, Caye is so much like her mother (the other important woman in her life), who sends herself flowers and pretends with an uneasy ambiguity that they might be from her husband who “has been buried three years.” They both reveal their pain with their eyes. Like the adage, “what you hate in others is invariably something you hate about yourself,” Caye projects her frustration at her mother, perhaps because she acts as a kind of attitudinal mirror, and because it is easier to criticize than to take criticism. The terse and laborious dinners that she shares with her family, of which she isthe youngest, are so because of all that is concealed and left seething beneath the surface…or calling incessantly on Caye’s phone, to be apt. In the one place she should be able to best actualize herself; her home, her kingdom, Caye is again an actress, surrounded by actors. In every role of her life she is covert, denying her passions at work, and her work in her passions (even though she tells new her love interest Manuel at the beginning of their courtship, he thinks she’s joking and she allows him the misapprehension). This kind of active self denial can only endure for so long, for there may be no greater agony than an individual hidden within themselves.
By its prevailing strokes of mitigated pathos and existential leanings, the entire film is a bastion of hope for cinema that dwells in severe territory. Our sympathies arise from its pure humanism and a dire minimum of manipulation (I suppose even framing is a form of manipulation). In keeping with Aranoa’s proven sensitivity and intuition, we are not appeased with a clean resolution, but offered a hanging expression that promises both turmoil and respite in its aftermath…but we may only infer, like cutting away before the last thread of a twig has broken and having to imagine the snap! In a way, it resonates more. What my mind reverts to is an early scene in the film. Caye turns from the pharmacists counter and sees a little blonde girl playing on a scale. The scale reads zero. “You’re so light,” she says to the girl. “That means you’re an angel.” Her mother looks at Caye smartly and says, “you have to put money in it for it work.” To this remark Caye’s face speaks of a heart that is trying so hard to love, but is stamped out at the smallest outpouring. But after going through the wars with Zulema, she’s grown brave enough to want to shatter her shell and let her heart bleed. No kingdom is reclaimed without blood.