Born and raised in Israel, Tali Shalom Ezer first caught the independent film world’s attention with 2008’s “Surrogate.” Her new film, the story of a young girl taking her first steps — or missteps — into adulthood and sexuality, might be what finally puts her on the international map. “Princess” was recorded in Hebrew and was a multiple award winner at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?
“Princess” is a dark coming of age story of 12 year-old Adar, which shifts continually between reality and fantasy, exploring the sexual dynamics in a family.
Now, what’s it REALLY about?
The main character, Adar, a bright 12-year-old girl, must find her place amidst the openly lustful relationship between her liberal workaholic mother, Alma, and Michael, her young stay-at-home stepfather. While her mother works long shifts at the hospital as a doctor, Adar is left in Michael’s care. The strong love and attachment they share increasingly moves into risky role-playing games, which skirt dangerously between openness and intimacy. Seeking an escape from this claustrophobic and terrifying environment, Adar takes to the streets, lonely and alienated. There she meets Alan, a ethereal boy with whom she bears a striking resemblance. Adar brings the young boy into the family home to help her confront her reality. The two youngsters comfort each other and share the burden of this complex dynamic. What the film is really about is something that is very difficult to put into words. It’s about the ambivalent and overwhelming experience that takes place in the realm between intimacy and exploitation. It’s about being able to face the painful truth in order to grow up and take control of your life.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I am a filmmaker living in Tel Aviv. I studied cinema at the Tel Aviv University Film Department and currently teach there (“The Actor’s Work” and “Directing Actors”). My background is in theatre and it was from there that I developed a great love and admiration for the craft of the actor. “Princess” is my first feature film. Before that I made several shorts and documentaries, all of which presented emotional, passionate and conflicting characters whose stories unravelled in very small, intimate and domestic spaces. I am fascinated in the connection between psychology and cinema and I am driven by the desire to explore the human experience through cinematic stories.
What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
One of the greatest challenges for me was the decision of whether or not to include the scene which explicitly shows Adar’s exploitation. The script did not initially include this scene. It was only something we added in the additional shooting days. I had begun to develop an internal conflict about this. I felt that perhaps when people watched the film, they wouldn’t understand that this is the harsh reality that I wanted to touch without this scene. I explained to my Script Advisor that I felt it was immoral to include this scene in terms of working with a young actress. He asked me, “You think its moral not to shoot it? You really touch this subject -you give a lot of details in this film, you show everything. This is the most harsh and difficult moment in Adar’s life and you don’t want to show it? You leave your character? Why do you think this is the moral thing to do?” Ultimately, my Script Advisor told me to think about the directors I most loved and admired–Bergman, for example–and to imagine how they would do this scene. This was a very helpful angle. It helped me see that I needed to go ahead with this scene and that it had to be with Adar and not with Alan. I wanted it to touch the audience, I didn’t want to be split in this moment, I wanted to be with Adar while she was going through this.
What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?
I would like the audience to be engaged with the characters and to be open enough to enter this scary zone where many things are unclear. I wish that the audience will be brave enough to follow the story of Adar till the end, and take away something of her courage in smashing the scared concept of the family unit, and in bringing the painful truth to light.
Are there any films that inspired you?
What inspires me most at the level of the writing is my dreams, my experiences, the lives of people who are close to me and stories that I hear. However, when I want to communicate with my crew, then I find other films very inspiring. When I was talking to the DoP or the actors about the world and the atmosphere that I want to create, referencing other films was helpful. In the making of “Princess”, we talked a lot about “Cría Cuervos” (English: “Raise Ravens”) by Carlos Saura; “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman; “Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick; “Gemini” by Albertina Carri; “Cement Garden” by Andrew Birkin; “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by Mike Nichols and “Rosemary’s Baby” and other films by Roman Polanski, as well as many others.
What’s next for you?
I have just begun work on two new projects that I am very excited about. Both are still in the very early stages so its too early to tell you much.
What cameras did you shoot on?
We shot on Red One and Epic.
Did you crowdfund?
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.