- VENICE 2022: Glory Kevin is the surprising protagonist of Roberto De Paolis' moving film about the life of a young Nigerian prostitute
Who are these aliens we see in passing on our roadsides? What do they want, what life do they lead, what are their names? One of them calls herself Princess, but she does not tell her name to the customers who ask her when they stop at the edge of that forest that starts in Rome and ends on the coast. She answers Pamela, or Isabella, and laughs. Glory Kevin, alias Princess, is the surprising protagonist of Princess [+see also:
interview: Roberto De Paolis
film profile], the film by Roberto De Paolis and the opening title in competition of the Orizzonti section of the 79th Venice Film Festival. We write surprising because no one expects that a young Nigerian illegal immigrant only 19 years old who prostitutes herself in a pine forest on the outskirts of the capital ("white women work downtown") can generate such a wide palette of emotions and feelings and communicate them to the spectator with a freshness and appeal that a professional actor does not possess.
Roberto De Paolis made his debut in 2017 with Pure Hearts [+see also:
interview: Roberto De Paolis
film profile], presented in Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, a film that situated a love story between the car park of a suburban shopping centre and a large Romani camp. With his second feature film, he has shifted his gaze, but not by too much, and above all, he has started over when it comes to film structure itself. He wrote the film together with the Nigerian girls who then starred in it, incorporating fictional elements for 'spectator croyance', with professional actors triggering the stories.
There is therefore a level of perception of the absolute drama of trafficking victims, who are often subjugated by the 'juju' oath, a ritual that binds them to the madam, the person to whom the money from clients is to be sent. These are very young girls who have daily sexual exploitation on their shoulders and at the same time the responsibility of supporting their families in their country of origin. In Princess, this perception comes directly from the protagonists' dialogues, without the filters of overt commiseration. The other level is that of the protagonist's personal history. Princess expresses a joie de vivre that no slavery can repress, even when she is systematically betrayed by life. Her best friend is Success (Sandra Osagie): they joke, they cuddle, they hurl insults at each other (one of which is 'whore for free') and they fight hard. Right from the protagonist's name and the Disney-esque opening credits, the film deceptively declares itself to be a fairy tale, because it is a carefree 19-year-old girl we are talking about. Princess/Little Red Riding Hood (she wears a fuchsia wig when she works) operates in a forest and the director puts several wolves in her path: the rich client (Maurizio Lombardi) who takes her in his white Ferrari of dreams (or rather, of selfie, to make her friends die of envy); the maniacal taxi driver (Salvatore Striano); the candid Corrado (Lino Musella), who looks for mushrooms and feeds pigeons but hates human beings. He takes her home, teaches her to drive and wants her for himself, but it will only be another illusion/disappointment. That is why Princess' obsession is money. It is the only thing she can hold on to, and her body is the only thing she has. Madam has told her that what is being used is not her body and another woman will feel the pain instead. Princess makes us laugh and moves us because after 110 minutes, she is no longer an alien, she is exactly what we expect a 19-year-old girl to be. As free as those foxes that roam her forest.
Princess is produced by Young Films and Indigo Film with Rai Cinema. With Venice, Princess enters the festival circuit but can certainly aspire to an international distribution, starting with its acquisition by Italian outfit Lucky Red.
(Translated from Italian)
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