Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Pretty Ones (2016) Film Review
The Pretty Ones
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Essay films are often intensely personal curios, the very interrogation of the form of the film playing as much a part as the subject matter, hovering in a hinterland between documentary and a 'fiction' created by the director. Some people find this neither fish nor fowl approach hard to grapple with - but even they surely have to admit that there is something fascinating about the idea of a salmon with wings. The first-person perspective of these films is usually the deal-breaker either way - as they either 'speak' to you or not and the trick for the filmmaker is finding the resonance that echoes beyond the specific personal experience they are illustrating into the wider world.
This is why, I suspect, that The Pretty Ones (Las Lindas) will find women are its most responsive audience, as director Melisa Liebenthal interrogates - with humour and strong self-awareness - notions of femininity and beauty, particularly those that stem from one of this century's favourite populist art forms, photographs of ourselves.
Her jumping off point is her immediate circle of childhood friends, some of whom have come and gone from the central group and returned again, others of whom have stayed perpetually close. Using home video footage and pictures, she talks to them about the clothes they have chosen to wear - or been togged out in by their parents - spinning the conversations out into wider discussions about identity. Her camera captures faces without bodies and bodies without faces, taking an interest in the non-conformist, such as a ladder running up a pair of tights. The conversation is as loose as the camerawork, peppered with ideas of peer and societal pressure. One girl reveals her mum thought black wasn't a suitable colour for a girl, while another shows that criticism isn't confined to flowing down from parent to daughter, castigating her mum for wearing large hoop earrings in one photo - "Who's she trying to be - Jennifer Lopez?"
Liebenthal is particularly interested in the perception of prettiness. "You're prettier when you smile," she was told as a girl, leading her to fake it. But this isn't just about how the opinions of others shape us but the "male gaze in my head" and how much our desire to conform comes from within, driven by some amorphous set of rules and a cycle of expectations and reinforcement.
Liebenthal doesn't pretend to have the answers but she helps us more clearly see questions that are well worth thinking about when we consider being female or how women are treated by ourselves and others in the modern world.Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2016