"Princesas" (G) is the new movie by Fernando León de Aranoa, a Spanish director who last gave us Mondays in the Sun, a rather charming movie about unemployment. Princesas is about prostitutes: the Spaniard Caye (Candela Peña, smoldering) and the Dominican Zulema (Micaela Nevárez, winsome). The Spanish hookers distrust the foreign competition, which undercuts their prices. However, Caye develops an initially wary, increasingly warm friendship with her rival, after she learns that Zulema is in a desperate spot — dependent on a sadistic official who keeps promising her working papers in return for rough sex.
I found Princesas to be a frustrating movie, because it’s about half moments of genius and half stumbles.
Genius: the performances of the two main characters, which won them both Goyas. Also the subplot of Caye’s relationship with a computer programmer. She meets him under ambiguous circumstances that don’t reveal her profession, and she then struggles to keep it secret from him as she falls for him. There are also pungently individualizing details, and lots of warmth and playfulness. The film indeed exudes Malegria, the sort of melancholy cheerfulness that is de Aranoa’s specialty.
The stumbles: Sentimentality.* The hookers in this movie have proverbial hearts of gold, and are looking for True Love. God knows this might be true of Spanish hookers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a cliche. Perhaps you can have the hookers dream of being ‘princesses’ or show pictures of the children they’re doing it all for, but you’re on thin ice above a lake of schmaltz here. The ice breaks under de Aranoa. Princesas is also too long and too meandering. I have no problem with slice-of-life movies, but here, too many slices don’t fit into the pie. I’m talking about scenes that are long but not really important, or that introduce a promising character or theme that never reappears. Princesas needed a more ruthless editor.
Strangely enough, the more time passes since I saw the movie, the fonder my memories of it. Princesas is like a distant relative who’s goofy and cheerful but who talks too much. Just after he leaves, you breathe a sigh of relief. But weeks later, you’re still thinking about some of the odd, charming things he said. So go see this friendly, intermittently brilliant movie.
* How refreshing it is to see a picture about hookers in which they don’t become nuns, marry a respectable businessman, or enroll in community college! The hookers in Princesas remain hookers, as most hookers do. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any hookers; they’d all be housewives, college students, or nuns. This is one sort of sentimentality Princesas doesn’t indulge. Only in Europe, baby, only in Europe.