Ionesco’s Princess learns mis-education and transgression through art
Last night, the International Critics’ Week of the Cannes Film Festival held a special screening (organised in collaboration with the Official Selection) of My Little Princess [+see also:
film profile] by Eva Ionesco.
Ionesco’s edifying immersion into the exploitation of a child by her artist mother in 1979s Paris stars Isabelle Huppert who once again takes to a transgressive role like a fish to water, and the young Anamaria Vartolomei. This autobiographical feature debut depicts the drifts of an era and of a woman who will do almost anything to express herself artistically, even manipulate her own child, which she fashions into an erotic icon.
Hannah (Huppert) is an ambitious, extravagant Romanian night bird suffering from haphephobia (fear of physical contact with others), who enjoys nothing more than visiting graveyards and dressing in a completely anti-conformist manner. After having shown little talent for painting, the wannabe artist launches into photography.
Her daughter Violetta (Vartolomei) only has a year left at school and is fascinated by a mother who neglects her and disappears as quickly as she appeared in the small flat they share with Hannah’s great-grandmother (Georgetta Leahu), who is in charge of rearing the child.
Violetta starts posing for Hannah in her studio, thus casting away the dolls and toys of her age for a more toxic environment. Indeed, Hannah is quick to suggest, “Open your legs a bit more, that’s lovely, it’s like Balthus” after initial suggestions that her daughter not smile because “smiles are just good for weddings”.
Pressure ensues and the photos become increasingly erotic and shocking (albeit extremely artistic). The sweet smell of success has a lingering note of scandal and gallery owners present Violetta as “the little princess ruling over this universe”. In a first moment, the girl enjoys the attention and entry into the adult world, and imitates the provocative conduct of her mother.
Very quickly though, the reputation of the photographs reaches the school, where Violetta, who has grown up too quickly, too badly, no longer feels in tune with her fellow pupils. Slowly, she becomes aware of her role and starts feeling disgusted at the mere notion of posing naked with men, and breaks the subversive pact that binds her to a mother that harasses her to continue posing. When the great-grandmother dies, the law will start showing an interest in this case where art and vice entwine.
An account of adults’ manipulation of children (one of the main themes running through the 2011 Cannes Film Festival), My Little Princess approaches the topic of a warped education where the obsessive search for originality of a mother (who dotes on her child in spite of her excesses) essentially marginalises her daughter. Exploring the intensely close relationship, the film is a series of ups and downs that also offers contemplations on the limits of creativity, the status of a role model and the tyranny of the creator.
(Translated from French)
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