By James Lattimer
Some day, there’ll be a film about cult membership that doesn’t draw on the same hoary old clichés, but until then we have Marialy Rivas’ Princesita, whose glossy, vaguely queasy take on the standard narrative of male power figures and helplessly ensnared women is so overfamiliar that it feels stretched at a mere 78 minutes.
Twelve-year-old Tamara (Sara Caballero) lives in a rural commune in the ravishing landscape of southern Chile, where everyone sports fashionable clothing and perfect teeth, including the commune’s charismatic silver-fox leader Miguel (Marcelo Alonso), whose approval is everything. After some innocent banter about the virtues of nature, Miguel’s invariably salacious agenda is revealed: he wants Tamara to fulfill her obvious potential and carry his child, and, somewhat implausibly, sends her to a local school so that she can make up her own mind about her part in his plans. Her strange questions about intercourse duly arouse the suspicions of one of her teachers, with the latter’s subsequent enquiries ushering in the cult’s eventual downfall.
The only innovation Rivas introduces to this entirely predictable trajectory is her relentless focus on Tamara’s interior world, which is achieved via oodles of whispered voiceover about her fascination for/confusion about Miguel and the requisite, bastardized Malickian camerawork that tries to tap into her subjectivity by either pressing itself against her face or showing things through her eyes. Neither strategy offers up any psychological insight not already obvious from the plot, while the swooning, picturesque slow-motion world that Rivas conjures up for her protagonist often feels inappropriately alluring—not least in the (dream?) sequence showing a vision of Miguel raping Tamara, whose aesthetic is far too close to that of a moody pop video for comfort. Surely repressive cult dynamics shouldn’t look so pretty?