Raindance Film Festival: Princesita

Directed by Marialy Rivas
Starring Sara Caballero, Marcelo Alonso and María Gracia Omegna
Screening at Raindance October 6th, 2018

by Alex Plant

Director Marialy Rivas’ follow up to her 2012 feature Young and Wild is a bold and timely piece of work. Drawing inspiration from the true story of a Chilean family that believed their young daughter would carry the child that could prevent 2012’s impending apocalypse, Princesita is a dark fairytale for the modern age.

Twelve year old Tamara (Caballero) has grown up in a cult that keep themselves confined to the beautiful countryside of Southern Chile. As she verges on the cusp of puberty and womanhood, cult leader Miguel (Alonso) selects her as the chosen one and as such allows her to be the first of the cult’s children to attend a mainstream school. Time goes by and she realises that Miguel has actually chosen her to be the bearer of his child, who will be the true chosen one. As she learns more about the outside world her admiration and affection for Miguel shifts to something more primal and she anxiously awaits the arrival of her first period, signalling that she will be ready to conceive.

Though it does contain some very uncomfortable moments, Princesita doesn’t rely on shock tactics and overtly explicit imagery to tell its story. Key to this is that we see everything that happens from Tamara’s perspective, sometimes even directly. It’s a story of slow systematic abuse told through the eyes and actions of a pubescent child, and the way Rivas has shot this film perfectly complements this notion. Golden child Tamara has free reign over the sun-kissed paradise she believes she’ll one day inherit, and liberal use of soft focus, bold colours and an almost all-consuming haze amplify the dreamlike nature of her world. Whenever events take a darker turn, these same techniques, coupled with atmospheric sound design and an unnervingly fluid performance from Alonso, turn Miguel from a prophet into a demon, without ever swerving into a typically villainous portrayal. Sticking to one character’s viewpoint can be frustrating at times when there are other characters that also feel interesting in the mix, but Caballero is a revelation and strikes the balance between little princess and increasingly self-aware young woman perfectly.

The subtly whispered narration contributes to a constant overriding sense of unease, rather than a building sense of terror. Sure, like with most on-screen portrayals of cults there is an obvious sense of something more sinister at work, but we always know what Miguel’s intentions are. It’s Tamara’s acceptance and eventual rejection of Miguel’s normalised patriarchal behaviour and belief system that form the true allegorical heart of Princesita. There are undeniable parallels to be drawn with the current socio-political climate in the US and beyond, but Rivas gets her point across stylishly, without it ever feeling particularly heavy-handed.

Princesita is an important and interesting piece of feminist cinema and will surely make an impact beyond its native Chile in the coming years.


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