Review: Princesas

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(Scene from the film our reviewer gives 4 stars).

Zulema (Micaela Nevarez) is a striking streetwalker who cruises the low-rent district of Madrid, strutting her stuff in skimpy outfits. The attractive, illegal immigrant would really rather pursue a less dangerous line of work, given the physically-abusive johns she encounters and the recurring risk of sexually-transmitted diseases. But because she has a mother and five year-old son back home in the Dominican Republic dependent on her for financial support, she perseveres in an omnivorous profession very likely to eat up her future before long.

Caye (Candela Pena), by contrast, is a relatively high-class hooker who operates out of a whorehouse which masquerades as a beauty salon. Because she comes from a middle-class background, Caye has to hide what she does from her family. This sometimes proves to be a challenge, especially since her mother is curious about why she refuses to answer her constantly ringing cell phone.

Cave and Zulema’s paths cross the day the latter is badly battered by a client and the former compassionately accompanies her to the hospital. Thus begins the forging of an intimate, if initially awkward, friendship borne as much out of desperation as out of a mutual need for an emotional shoulder to lean on. Directed by Fernando Leon de Aronoa (Familia), Princesas is a super-realistic character study which fully fleshes out (pardon the expression) these very engaging protagonists to reveal, ever so sympathetically, a couple of sensitive souls in simpatico with far more in common than either would like to admit. Without ever resorting to stereotypes, this unabashedly feminist flick paints an ultimately optimistic picture of the prospects of these would-be princesses, still little girls at heart, who have somehow landed in a seemingly hopeless predicament.

For instead of waiting for proverbial knights in shining armor who will never come, Cave and Zulema feed each other’s dreams of a better day, as they gradually extract themselves from the enveloping quicksand of the suicidal sex trade. Packing body cavities with semen instead of cocaine, Princesas provides the most engaging presentation from the perspective of an exploited, female underclass since the equally-evocative Maria, Full of Grace. Hail Mary, full of DNA.

Excellent (4 stars). Unrated. In Spanish with subtitles.  Running time: 105 minutes. Studio: IFC Films

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