Prom night is a relatively new concept for Israeli youth, one spurred on by the import of American teen TV series like Beverly Hills, 90210 during the mid-1990s. Even overseas, this end-of-high-school ritual is no less given to extravagant gestures. In the surreal first scene of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit’s Jerusalem-set Flawless, a male student rides a horse through empty school hallways, arriving at a gymnasium where he asks a girl to prom and then whisks her away like Prince Charming might Cinderella.
This grandiloquent action makes many hearts flutter, but breeds resentment in Mika (Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonen) and Keshet (Noam Lugasy), two cynical best friends who harbor their own prom dreams, yet to be realized. They’ll soon be joined by a third young woman, just-enrolled senior Eden (Stav Strashko), who is hiding the fact that she’s trans from the student body.
Each girl has a wish beyond getting a date and procuring a dress. Mika wants her breasts augmented, Keshet aspires to have her prominently angular nose reduced and Eden longs to align her body physically with her gender identity. Enter Keren (Assi Levy), an enchanting older woman who Mika and Keshet have been speaking to online. She’s willing to make all the girls’ dreams come true…for the price of a kidney. Wait, what?
It would seem ill-advised to graft a black-market organ thriller onto what is, for much of its running time, an alternately caustic and poignant teen dramedy. But it’s strangely the scenes with Keren that play best here, in large part because Levy is sensational at walking a line between beguiling and brutish. Indeed, there are a few moments, such as when the teens travel to meet Keren in person, where the film seems to be turning into a subdued (or is it?) variation on The Human Centipede. The resulting queasiness — the sense that something is off in ways that go far beyond what’s onscreen — proves extremely compelling.
Despite a few eccentric touches (an unearthly dance scene, for example, in which the music is primarily inaudible), the rest of Flawless pales in comparison, mainly for being so familiar. It sticks to the standard coming-of-age template, with parents who just don’t understand, bullies who need to be triumphed over and rebellious stands that must be taken. That’s not the worst thing, though, since Strashko, Mekonnen and Lugasy are so good together, like a much less movie-ish Clueless troika. And for that fact that Strashko, a Ukraine-born model with a fabulous camera presence, clearly brings some of her own life experience to the scenes with her character’s father, Meir (Micha Celektar), a man’s man uncomfortable with his trans child in ways both prehistoric and protective.
Cast: Stav Strashko, Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonnen, Noam Lugasy, Arad Triffon Reshef, Niv Sultan, Asi Levy
Directors: Sharon Maymon, Tal Granit
Producers: Osnat Handelsman Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Thanassis Karathanos, Martin Hampel
Screenwriters: Sharon Maymon, Tal Granit
Cinematographer: Giora Bejach
Editor: Einat Glaser Zarhin
Composer: Ivri Lider
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Sales: Thorsten Ritter (Beta Cinema)