A single mother gives free rein to her sexual appetite in the Israeli drama "The Slut."

A single mother of two young girls gives free rein to her sexual appetite in the ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying Israeli drama “The Slut,” from multihypenate Hagar Ben Asher. Strong on style and atmosphere, short on dialogue and totally lacking in character psychology, the pic seems destined to divide critical opinion between those who find it affected and schematic and those excited by its non-judgmental feminism and deliberate formal aspects. Further fest action seems assured, with Euro territories the best sales bet.

The elliptical tale unfolds in a dusty village where the eponymous Tamar (Ben Asher) seems to be the only adult woman. She dispenses sexual favors to several local men, often copulating outdoors under the hidden gaze of her giggling offspring.

When veterinarian Shay (Ishai Golan) returns to the village to settle his deceased mother’s affairs, he tries to tame Tamar into conventional domesticity, improving her house and caring for her daughters. As their affair blossoms, her former lovers glower in the background, apparently stirring within her a resistance to monogamy. Although Tamar begins to stray from their bed, Shay remains strangely content to stay in the relationship and receive the affections of her children.

Despite its title, the pic is not particularly lurid. Apart from one prolonged bedroom scene between Tamar and Shay, most of the other joyless sexual encounters are implied rather than explicitly shown.

Much like Cannes competition entry “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Slut” (whose script was developed under European mentorship) refrains from supplying audiences with an emotional hook; lissome cipher Tamar is all id. We have no idea what she thinks or why she behaves the way she does, except, perhaps, at the pic’s not unexpected but still not well-prepared conclusion.

The story’s abstraction is echoed on a visual level with Tamar likened to the wounded animals Shay so tenderly treats, and his attempts to contain her are made literal with the fence he constructs around their house. Lensing by d.p. Amit Yasour is both arty and artful as he elaborates the motif of open and closed doors and people spying primal scenes through windows.

In essaying the title character, as well as performing scripting and helming duties, Ben Asher (who starred in the Israeli skein “The Ran Quartet”) might have overextended herself. She looks fine with and without clothes, but evinces no discernible emotions. In the equally difficult role of Shay, the warm Golan comes across as a real, caring human being, so much so that he fails to convince as someone who stays in his fraught relationship for more nefarious purposes.

Along with the cinematography, the heightened naturalism of the sound design reps the standout aspect of the well-rendered craft package.

The Slut

Israel-Germany

Production

A Transfax Film, Rohfilm production with the support of Rabinovich Foundation, Torino Film Lab, World Cinema Fund, Zigota Films, Sundance, Channel 10, Cinefondation. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Marek Rozenbaum, Benny Drechsel. Directed, written by Hagar Ben Asher.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Amit Yasour; editor, Asaf Korman; production designer, Shunit Aharoni; costume designer, Li Alembik; sound (Dolby SR), Ronen Nagel, Yisrael David. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 12, 2011. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Hagar Ben Asher, Ishai Golan, Icho Avital, Yoav Levi, Tzahi Hanan, Stav Yanai, Daria Forman. (Hebrew dialogue)

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