The Burglar: What it feels like for a girl
by Vitor Pinto
- Hagar Ben-Asher’s unapologetic second feature stars newcomer Lihi Kornowski as a teenage tigress-cum-thief
After making a sensational debut with the Cannes 2011 entry The Slut [+see also:
film profile], Israeli director Hagar Ben-Asher is back with The Burglar. Set in an Israeli village close to the Dead Sea, the film is, much like The Slut, another female character-driven film, this time focused on a teenage girl named Yaeli (Lihi Kornowski).
Yaeli’s mother suddenly disappears without leaving a message, leaving her alone without any means of paying the rent, despite her two jobs – one at the local resort, another at a nearby zoo. As if a missing mother and two jobs weren’t enough, her house ends up being burgled, too. All of these events prove too much for her, apparently pushing Yaeli to unexpectedly change her behaviour and unleash her wild side by becoming a burglar herself, too.
Not your typical kleptomaniac – but certainly a disturbed young woman – Yaeli mainly steals personal objects, such as her neighbour’s hearing aid or some lipstick, which she later applies in order to look older and seduce a German geologist who has recently arrived in town. Feeling deprived of a life of her own after her mother’s departure, Yaeli seems determined to live an imaginary one made up of objects and extracts yanked from other people’s lives.
An intense psychological portrait in which actions are more important than long dialogues, The Burglar combines an intimate and realistic approach with a symbolic and oneiric dimension, which is achieved by depicting Yaeli as a character who also becomes fascinated by a cheetah from the local zoo.
If the horse from The Slut symbolised all the sexual tension that the film contained, in The Burglar, the tigress seems to be there to inspire Yaeli to connect with her wild side. As her behaviour becomes increasingly proactive when it comes to seducing the German geologist – who initially resists but finally gives in – we also witness her desire for violence and revenge increase. But the script is clever enough to leave us wondering how far she will go to fulfil that desire, and makes us question whether Yaeli’s most radical acts are indeed real or, on the contrary, a reflex of her most dangerous fantasies.
At a time when feminism is (once again) a hot topic, Ben-Asher has made a committed and unapologetic film laying out and embracing the complexity of the female universe, as she did in her previous work. An ideal choice for the lead, newcomer Kornowski delivers a convincing and amoral performance as Yaeli. She takes the film upon her shoulders, alternating between moments of loss, calculated coldness and uncontainable rage, showcasing all the complexity of a girl on the verge of becoming a woman.
Co-produced by Leipzig/Berlin-based outfit Rohfilm, along with France’s Les Films du Poisson and Israel’s Cinema Group, the film is currently taking part in the Hivos Tiger Competition at the 46th International Film Festival Rotterdam. German outfit The Match Factory handles the international sales.