Dir/scr: Keren Yedaya. Israel-France-Germany. 2014. 94mins

Away From His Absence_Loin de son absence_directed by Keren Yedaya

The unrelenting abuse that runs through Keren Yedaya’s That Lovely Girl is heartbreakingly hard to bear – that alone watch - at times, but while this bleak and dour film is defined by its sense of unhappiness, the strong central performances end up making it disturbingly mesmeric as it weaves its sad tale.

While That Lovely Girl is consistently uncomfortable, her determination – and that of her actors – to never veer from its depressing and sad story is oddly admirable.

The film, which screened in Un Certain Regard, is simply about abuse – sexual, physical, emotional and mental, and not forgetting self-abuse in terms of self-harming – and while perhaps too dark and lacking a positive moral resolution its powerful story is told with simple rigour and a determination to pull no punches.

The film opens in relatively tantalising fashion as Tami (Maayan Turjeman), in her early twenties spends time with rather brutish Moshe (Tzahi Grad), though initially their relationship isn’t clear. Soon it is evident that while they are father and daughter they live together in a cruel and often violent relationship from which she seems unable to free herself. Instead she is sexually subservient, given to self-harming and binge eating (followed by vomiting) and desperate to hang onto the ‘love’ that he offers her.

Rather overweight Tami spends her time preparing food, binge eating and waiting for Moshe to return home. He offers a brutal kind of affection – he has perfunctory sex with her whenever he wants it – and while call her pretty also criticises her for putting on weight. When he brings a girlfriend back for Passover she is mortified and walks out of their flat, ending up on a Tel Aviv beach where she drinks with a bunch of guys and ends up having sex with several of them…again just simply pliable as she seeks affection of any kind and abused in a matter-of-fact style.

When she loses her purse on the beach she is helped by Shuli (Yael Abecassis) who takes her back to her flat, lets her sleep there and tends her wounds (mirroring the only bit of tender care Moshe shows) when she self harms by cutting her arms. The two women start to live a low-key domestic life – cleaning and cooking together, smoking dope and laughing at television programmes – with Tami’s need for affection being satisfied. Though there is an underlying sense that Shuli (whose character is not really developed) is also taking advantage of this damaged young woman.

Director Keren Yedaya has adapted the story from the novel Away From His Absence by Shez, and while That Lovely Girl is consistently uncomfortable, her determination – and that of her actors – to never veer from its depressing and sad story is oddly admirable. Even a ‘dream sequence’ late in the film, which offers a perverse variation on ‘happiness’ for this couple even fits into the gloomy ethos of the film.

Production companies: Transfax,  Bizibi, Riva Filmproduktion

International sales: Other Angle Pictures, otheranglepictures@gmail.com

Producers: Marek Rozenbaum, Michael Rozembaum, Emmanuel Agneray, Jerome Bleitrach, Michael Eckfelt

Cinematography: Laurent Brunet

Editor: Arik Lahev-Leibovich

Main cast: Maayan Turjeman, Tzahi Grad, Yael Abecassis