With the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival coming soon, I’m reminded of a film I saw there last year - My Little Princess by Eva Ionesco. I am a huge fan of Isabelle Huppert, and will pretty much see a film just because she’s in it. So when I saw the trailer for My Little Princess, I was excited. It promised to be cinematic eye candy at the very least, with Huppert’s character swathed in long gowns and fur stoles. Not to mention the luscious red lips and bleached blond hair. Newcomer Anamaria Vartolomei rivaled Huppert with her disturbingly mature, Lolita-esque look. Vartolomei was only ten years old when the film was shot.
No fault to Huppert or Vartolomei, as they gave stunning performances against an incredibly rich and decadent backdrop, but I felt the movie was all surface, no substance. Sometimes I’m happy with that - everyone loves a mindless romp once in a while, but in this context, I needed more.
The core of the film is about love and hate, and the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. It’s about madness and exploitation. The mother (Hanna), a selfish artist trying to make a name for herself, sees an opportunity in her daughter (Violetta), and starts photographing her. Violetta, lacking the tools to protect herself, and intoxicated by the attention her mother now gives her, becomes a marionette for her mother’s amusement. It’s unsettling to witness Violetta’s transformation from an innocent girl to a highly sexualized work of art.
Despite this, the movie is filmed with a sense of detachment as if the audience were simply witnessing a spectacle. We are kept at a distance from what is happening and Ionesco offers no commentary or judgement. In that, the film lacks genuine emotion. Maybe Ionesco needed this distance to be able to tell her story, but in the end, it left me wanting.