Critical Writing & Reviewing, Summer 2019
Exploring the highs and lows of adolescence is far from a unique idea in cinema, dominating many beloved coming of age classics. Israel’s Flawless is no exception, the film being absurdist take on the pressures to fit in and find oneself in society. It is an approach so outlandish that it somehow works, and manages to be a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking film.
Flawless, directed and written by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, follows the journey of three girls in high school who turn to organ harvesting in order to afford breast implants. The surreality of the film so deeply based in the emotional state of high school students, rather than any actual basis in reality, enhances our understanding of the characters and actually establishes the groundwork for the film’s true strength: its insightful exploration of the transgender experience in high school.
Eden, the protagonist of the film, has just come off of her most recent move, all due to her struggles to find acceptance as a male-to-female transgender teenager. Desperate to fit in, she falls in with Keshet and Tiggist, two girls in her new school who have discovered the perfect way to get the plastic surgery that will get them dates to prom: going to a back-alley clinic across the border in order to receive the enhancement surgery, while selling their kidneys on the black market in order to cover the cost.
This is a film that, considering the concept alone, should not work. There is no real basis in reality, and the camera work and aesthetics are incredibly simple. However, in its simplicity it finds grace, and it allows the story to stand on its own. In a made-up world defined by outlandish promposals, quickly established by the opening shot of a teenager riding a horse in the hallway to pick up his chosen prom date, and a plastic surgery epidemic, we are introduced to the core of the story: the achingly real emotions of a high school student, who views everything as life or death.
Tiggist and Keshet, the girls who somehow serve as both Eden’s closest friends and her most dangerous of antagonists, represent the duality of most high school friendships. They say the worst insults with a smile and are hypocritical in their obsession for popularity as opposed to their deep hatred of those who are popular. They are, however, not the villains of this story, rather naive participants in their own demise in the pursuit of their dream.
As the film goes on, the foundation of this fantasy world is stripped away: the botched surgery lands all three girls in the hospital, and are exposed to their classmates by a news report that also outed Eden as being trans. Upon returning to school, it is revealed that all of the girls who had claimed to have gotten plastic surgery actually had not, forcing the three protagonists to reconcile their perception of themselves and their lives with the reality that has always existed around them.
The final scene of the film is a stark contrast with the fairytale dream world of the first scene. Left with nothing but their friendship, but a newfound view of themselves, the three girls spend their prom night on the merry-go-round in the park, returning a place of childlike innocence that they had lost in the absurdity of high school. Despite having betrayed each other multiple times, their friendship remains only due to the fact that they are teenage friendships are more or less illogical, and that is okay.
The romance in Flawless is far from its namesake, but it is appreciated if only for the perspective it grants. Itali, Eden’s classmate, is not enamored with the pressures of his peers. Severely bullied, Itali seems to be the only character who knows that his situation is temporary, which provides a much-needed reality check from a film that thrives on sheer absurdity and implausibility. The actual romance itself was a tad underdeveloped, but that is easily forgiven in the scope of the story.
Eden’s relationship with her family is another matter, and this is the most grounded the film ever is. Eden’s father does not want her to get a transition operation, because he wants her to wait longer in case she changes her mind. Her father is not demonized, rather is used to serve as a rather nuanced portrayal of a parent who wants the world for their child, but does not know how to best serve their child when the world does not want them in return. The tension between what her father thinks is best for her and what Eden herself knows is best is what ultimately leads to her decision to join her friends in their dangerous plan, and the devastation he feels at the end is palpable. Their relationship marked a true arc in the film, and the plot is better for it.
Flawless is a film that thrives on the absurdity of human emotions, and ultimately it succeeds in telling a thoughtful story about the more delicate issues surrounding adolescence.
Cast: Stav Strashko, Netsanet Mekonnen, Noam Lugacy
Written and directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon