'Slut' stirs thoughts about sexuality at Cannes
Meet single-mother Tamar, aged 35. While her two daughters sleep, she slips away to meet one of her many lovers, an insatiable woman who stirs up deep questions about human sexuality.
"The Slut" is one of two Israeli feature films at Cannes this year, and the first from Hagar Ben Asher, who penned the script, directed the film and plays the main character.
It is being screened in the Critics' Week section of the festival, a closely followed showcase for budding auteurs.
"I wanted to find a way to portray a character whereby it is hard to decide whether she is a victim or a victimiser," Ben Asher told AFP in an interview. "She is driven by the need to please, which is the opposite of giving."
"The Slut" is set in a rural Israel populated by chickens and horses and people who exchange few words. Time drags along, broken only by sexual encounters rarely preceded by conversation.
Tamar's lovers are as varied as the places where their liaisons occur: the farmer behind the tractor, the bicycle repairman against a closed door, a man in the shadow against a wall.
Her life changes, however, when she falls in love with a kind, handsome veterinarian who becomes a father figure to her daughters. Nevertheless, she is ambivalent, wondering if she could truly be faithful to him.
"She is very independent," Ben Asher said. "She is the master of her own domain which she sometimes rules with bad taste."
Sex in general "is something very ambiguous, and sexuality is something undefined because it's a very basic need," the film-maker added.
"It's a very animalistic need -- and I think it's very difficult to trace the intellectual and logical behaviour behind everyone's sexuality."
"The Slut" was filmed a few kilometres (miles) from Tel Aviv and further to the north of the Israeli city, but the countryside is so unremarkable, no one would know it was in Israel if the players were not speaking Hebrew.
"Even though the film has been shot in a no-man's-land, if you would have been in Israel you would know that this represents the 'good old Israel'," Ben Asher said.
"The houses are the houses that were built at the creation of Israel.... It has a sense of Old Israel, the very nostalgic Israel which has a certain agenda."
Of the in-your-face title, Ben Asher is unapologetic: "I think I picked up on that title just because I wished to have the possibility of breaking the judgement behind what you might call a slut."
Spearheading Israel's presence at Cannes this year is Joseph Cedar's "The Footnote", a tale of father-and-son rivalry that is in competition for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top honour.
© 2011 AFP