My Little Princess (2011)
A film directed by Eva Ionesco

Genre: Drama

Film Review

My Little Princess photo
The mother-daughter relationship viewed through the prism of an eerie baroque fairytale offers an unusual slant on a familiar theme in this subtly disturbing directorial debut feature from actress and photographer Eva Ionesco. As unlikely as it may seem, My Little Princess is not a lurid exploitation fantasy but an honest account of the director's own childhood experiences, experiences which continue to haunt her adult life and cause her to harbour deep resentment against the person who inflicted them on her, her mother. From the age of five, Eva Ionesco was the favourite muse of her mother, the famous Rumanian photographer Irina Ionesco. By the time she was ten, she was appearing in magazines in erotic and provocative poses, effectively becoming the most prominent paedophilic porn model of the 1970s and giving Louis Malle the inspiration for his most controversial film, Pretty Baby (1978). Knowing this, it is easy to rush to judgement and condemn Irina Ionesco as the most irresponsible of mothers, if not a sick, evil pervert.

What makes Eva Ionesco's film so interesting is that it does not set out to demonise the exploitative mother. Instead, ogre though she most certainly is, she invites pity. She is more amoral than evil, totally incapable of seeing anything wrong in what she is doing. She sees her art as merely an extension of her maternal love, a form of idolatry centred on the most precious thing in her life, her daughter. Her cluttered baroque apartment, with its countless mirrors and extravagant ornamentation, both resembles a late 19th century bordello and the interior of a fairytale palace. The influence of horror films ranging from Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) to Mario Bava's Kill Baby, Kill (1966) is part of the film's distinctive ambiance, and with good reason. The mother Hanah is instantly identifiable as the marauding vampire, a shadowy figure of the night  (with a Bette Davis hairstyle) who preys upon her victim, her daughter, with an obvious salacious relish. The horror genre is beckoning Eva Ionesco like a grisly echoing whisper from the tomb.

With her long history of playing demented and dangerous females, Isabelle Huppert was such an obvious casting choice for the role of the vampiric mother that it is almost impossible to imagine any other actress in the part. The weirder the character she gets to play, the better Huppert is, and here she is at the pinnacle of her art. Her ambiguous portrayal obviously reflects the ambivalence that Eva Ionesco feels towards her own mother. The character Hanah is not just elusive, she is totally unfathomable. We never feel that we can like or engage with her, and yet neither do we grow to hate her. She becomes a tragic figure, pitifully marooned in the fantasy world that has become her life, obsessively devoted to her daughter and yet incapable of knowing what real love is. Hanah's monstrosity is seen only in reflection, through the destructive effect it is having on her daughter Violetta, a picture of innocence beautifully rendered by 10-year-old Rumanian Anamaria Vartolomei.

It is the slow but inevitable disintegration of the relationship between Violetta and her mother which provides this languorously dreamy film with the gentlest of narrative thrusts. At first, Violetta is a willing accomplice in her mother's fantasies, but slowly, as the child acquires her own identity and becomes aware that she is being turned into an object of gratification, the fault lines begin to show. Whereas Violetta develops in the course of the film, transformed from a blameless innocent to a very self-aware young lady, Hanah appears completely unchanged, and is clearly incapable of change. Next to an artist friend (an unusually sympathetic Denis Lavant) she appears chronically narcissistic and soulless. She plays with people like a little girl playing with her dolls, and her favourite doll is of course her daughter. Hanah's perversity derives not from malice but from a most extreme form of arrested development, and this is why we find it impossible to condemn her. Eva Ionesco may never forgive her mother for what she subjected her to but, by making this film, she almost certainly grew to know her a little better and realise that the tragedy of her abused childhood was not hers alone.
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Hannah and Violetta make an unusual couple, an elusive mother and daughter in need of maternal affection...
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Film Credits

Directed by Eva Ionesco
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Anamaria Vartolomei, Georgetta Leahu, Denis Lavant, Jethro Cave
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