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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 09.30.11] France movie review drama

Year: 2011
Director: Eva Ionesco
Writers: Eva Ionesco, Marc Cholodenko, Philippe Le Guay
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

There's something really disturbing about Eva Ionesco's My Little Princess. The plot for the film, the story of a failed artist who takes up the camera and makes a splash in the world of photography by taking provocative photos of models (the most prominent of which feature her young daughter) is already eyebrow-raising but there's an added layer of creepiness when one realizes that not only is the film written and directed by a woman but Ionesco is mining her own experiences with her mother for the story.

Ionesco's film isn't just about the photos. The fact that the pre-pubescent Violetta is being photographed in an inappropriate fashion is just the surface of the film which explores ideas of motherhood, love and art.

Anamaria Vartolomei makes her debut as Violetta, a young girl who spends much of her time with her ailing grandmother while her mother spends her days with artists or locked in her nearby studio. She's a painter but doesn't appear to sell much of her work making their existence one of not squalor but difficulty. And then the artist is given a new medium to work in. She takes up photography on what seems like a whim and finds that people love her work. Her highly stylized nudes feel like pinups from decades past but it's not until she turns her eye to her daughter that her career takes off.

It's clear from the beginning that Hana's (the great Isabelle Huppert) photography of her daughter is a selfish, one sided affair. There's a sense that she doesn't often come home but when she begins photographing Violetta, there's a clear sense that this is for her and not her mothering instinct kicking in. This selfishness is consistent throughout the film but particularly in the early days of their working relationship and later when Violetta rebels and refuses to be photographed. Reluctant to stop, at one point Hana even tricks Violetta into posing in what marks the beginning of the end of both their speaking relationship and Hana's career.

Shortly after this fallout, Hana is served with court papers accusing her photographs of indecency. The question of the morality of Hana's photos, which begin with only a touch of eroticism that quickly gets out of hand, begins much earlier in the film. From the start there's an uneasy feeling, as if the filmmaker is urging the viewer to wonder who will step in to stop this woman who can't seem to stop herself. When the courts interject, Ionescu chooses to focus her attention on the effect that the impending separation has on the mother/daughter relationship rather than further pursue the idea of whether the photos are immoral. It's here that it becomes obviously clear that Hana is a little "off." Not only does she continue to sell the photos but she blatantly ignores her daughter's requests to stop selling the photos.

My Little Princess features excellent performances from both actresses, particularly Vartolomei, gorgeous set and costume design and a wonderful score that often feels like it's playing against the story but in the end, I found the film to lack emotion. In an effort to stay non-judgemental, Ionescu has presented a story that simply feels too detached.

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