Incest continues to be inexplicably popular arthouse fodder, with Keren Yedaya’s “That Lovely Girl” prolonging the trend. A hothouse story of a father-daughter’s abusive (in all senses) relationship includes collateral issues such as codependency, self-mutilation and bulimia, making for a fairly accurate psychological profile of a sexually abused woman. If only Yedaya offered insight rather than a textbook portrait delineated solely by her protag’s victimization. Shot frequently in closeup to enhance feelings of inescapability, the pic is tough yet unremarkable, significantly marred by a vital side character lacking plausibility. “Girl” will accumulate fest and streaming dates, but little else.
Moshe (Tzahi Grad) and Tammy (Maayan Turjeman) are father and daughter. The script offers no backstory, so audiences only understand that he’s raped his child, now in her early 20s, for so long that she gets upset if he doesn’t have sex with her. His intimidation is so complete, her conviction that he’s the only person who loves her so total, that she becomes distraught when she suspects he’s with another woman. After Moshe comes home late, she asks, “Are you having an affair?” “Is it any of your business?” he demands in return, accompanying the jibe by slapping Tammy in the face and then sodomizing her from behind.
While he’s out, she binges and vomits, then pulls out an X-acto knife to add further cuts to her heavily self-scarred limbs. Daddy returns, bandages the wounds, and treats it all like a minor nuisance. Later he scolds her for getting fat: She cries, so to make her feel better, he roughly takes her from behind before leaving again. When he brings his new g.f., Iris (Tal Ben-Bina), to Passover dinner, Tammy sulks and finally runs away to the beach, where she lets four guys have sex with her.
With all the new activity, Tammy loses her purse and becomes distraught. Fortunately, Shuli (Yael Abecassis), a stranger, calms her down and takes her home, allowing her to stay the night and tending to her latest batch of self-mutilations. Who is Shuli? Does she have a job, or a life other than one devoted to this young woman she’s just met on the beach? Given the obvious lesbian overtones, including penetrating gazes and body language, audiences are led to think that Tammy is fated to be yet another victim of exploitation — it would have been a more interesting twist than the one Yedaya takes, of a selfless woman trying to break Tammy free from her abusive father. Surely the word “die,” which Tammy carved on her own arm, should have given Shuli enough pause to consider that maybe she’s a little out of her depth here.
Such thoughts remain unaddressed as Tammy ping-pongs between Daddy and her new protector, unable to break away from her codependency. Yedaya’s superior debut feature, “Or,” featured another kind of dysfunctional family, involving a teen girl and her prostitute mother; the follow-up, “Jaffa,” was less about the dynamics of parents and children, though still concerned with family power plays. With “That Lovely Girl” (originally titled “Away From His Absence,” like the novel it’s based upon), the helmer returns to the more minimal intensity of her freshman work, yet her characters are defined only by their psychological deformities – Moshe as monster, Tammy as traumatized victim. Shuli, meanwhile, is merely Good Samaritan, a far-fetched notion in keeping with Yedaya’s roughly sketched notions of personality, designed to make a statement rather than present a real human being.
Turjeman and Grad give what are generally called “brave” performances, and there’s no question they opened themselves up emotionally for this punishing psychological ride. Lensing marks a stylistic return of sorts to “Or,” also shot by Laurent Brunet, though here there’s a far heavier use of closeups, especially in the first two-thirds, which emphasize Tammy’s constricted world.