Princess Cyd

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Princess Cyd
"Cone's characters are fresh and real."

It begins with a phone call. Bodies have been found. And a little girl. She's with the caller's wife, a neighbour. The operator says that the police are on their way.

If not much seems to happen in Stephen Cone's dreamy summer-set film, it's because it has happened already. Losing his wife has left Cyd's father seriously depressed. He goes through periods where he's not coping very well at all, and this is one of them. So 16-year-old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is sent away to spend a few weeks with her mother's sister, Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in Chicago. At first their relationship is polite and considerate but guarded. Cyd doesn't expect adults to understand her, or to be very interesting. She'd rather go running with her headphones on and blot out the world. But what blossoms over the course of the summer is a new familial love that changes Cyd's relationship with her past and opens up her future.

Copy picture

Cone's characters are fresh and real, carefully detailed without weighing the film down with exposition. Miranda is a writer. Cyd recovers from the early faux pas of saying she doesn't read, and shows an interest in Miranda's books. The work Miranda does, however, remains as obscure as her father's business activities. She has plans to go to college but not a very clear idea about how the adult world works. This is presented not as a failing so much as a point of difference; she doesn't need it yet. Miranda's diverse, easy-going social circles allow her to start making connections with older people in a spontaneous way; Miranda is looking out for her but, as she says doesn't want to "be that adult" who lays down the law.

In parallel to this, Cyd is exploring the world as a young person, making eyes at the neighbour's boy and still more so at Katie (Malic White) whom she meets in a coffee shop and wastes no time in getting to know. Katie's uniform plaid shirt and partially shaven head fit the conventional image of a lesbian but, as Miranda gently hints, they don't know that - gender can be more complicated. Whatever is the case, the interest is mutual, the scenes between the two filled with a brightness that captures the intensity of teenage emotion.

Cyd isn't the damaged person one might expect from that opening scene, and this seems central to what the film is trying to say. It's very alert to the differences between children, teenagers and adults. Miranda lives her life at a very different pace from her niece - she's active, productive, but bemused by Cyd's insistence that she ought to be in a relationship or at least getting laid. The intensity of the teenager can be exasperating, but her wonder at the world, and her tremendous appetite for life, beguiles the adults around her.

This isn't a film full of light without shadows. Not everybody leads Cyd's latterly charmed life. In handling the darker subject matter, notably an incident of implied sexual violence, Cone shows commendable restraint. He lets us see what must be endured without letting us watch - without exploitation or imagery likely to distress viewers. He frames it as part of life, and like the murders at the outset, it isn't given undue power over anyone's destiny. This is a story whose protagonists are approaching life on their own terms.

Thoughtful and sensitive yet energetic and never dull, Princess Cyd is a beautiful piece of filmmaking destined to find its way onto people's lists of favourites. Not much happens but everything changes.

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2017
Share this with others on...
A teenager escapes life with her depressive dad for a summer with her novelist aunt.

Festivals:

London 2017

Search database: