The Slut Movie Review: A Provoking But Detached Film from Israel

Hagar Ben-Asher commits mind, body and soul.
  |   Comments

At the beginning of Hagar Ben-Asher’s The Slut, a horse leaps over a fence, runs freely and is eventually hit by a speeding truck. That this is the first imagery in this audacious and undaunted Israeli motion picture is no accident, but exactly what it symbolizes is ambiguous. Is it a statement about the potential risks of freedom? Or about driving too fast? Is it a statement at all?

the slutMuch of the buzz pertaining to The Slut will come out of its wilfully incendiary nature. The title is clearly meant to provoke some sense of dialogue about the term itself. Ben-Asher, perhaps wisely in these loaded times, is never overt about is meant by it. And the sex scenes, which feature the film’s writer and director front and centre, are also sure to incite.

Tamar (Ben-Asher) is a thirtysomething single mother living somewhere in rural Israel. She has two daughters (Daria Forman, Stav Yanai) and “attempts to fill her many voids through meaningless sexual encounters.” These include giving a blowjob to the guy who fixes her bicycle, for instance, and having sex with various men from the neighbourhood - often for no apparent reason.

When Shay (Ishai Golan) arrives in town, Tamar commences a relationship with him that digs deeper than her sexual passions. This relationship alters the rules by which she exists, forcing her to encounter her promiscuity and potentially develop new boundaries should she choose to remain with Shay and attempt some semblance of a “normal relationship.”

On a visceral level, The Slut makes no bones about displaying sex. Those who keep track of things like erect penises and genuine penetration will have a field day, as little is left to the imagination. Ben-Asher certainly takes a number of audacious steps, inserting herself, body and soul, into her artistic vision.

Offsetting the sexually explicit material with the horse-truck collision that sets the picture in motion helps to maintain a tone of darkness. As such, it’s hard to consider anything within The Slut as being traditionally erotic. Much of the fleshly activity occurs coupled with vacant looks, save for when Tamar and Shay set their physicality in motion.

As the film progresses, the darkness increases. Those who’d “used” Tamar do not react well to her relationship with Shay or to what is the totality of her sexuality. They want her to play by their rules and her brief violation of that alters how they define her. Tamar, perhaps motivated by a “necessity to please,” cares little for definitions. This proves costly.

A critical scene occurs when Tamar drops a tray of eggs and a male suitor arrives to call on her for a sexual liaison. She puts it off, suggesting they wait for tomorrow. Tamar’s sense of sexual duty comes to bear; there is little that she seems to find attractive about the man, but she will have sex with him because she will have sex with him. This postponement of the inevitable is somewhat stabilized by the appearance of Shay and “domestic bliss.”

Ben-Asher’s moves slowly (sometimes too slowly) and lingers on its characters and routines through Amit Yasour scenic cinematography. The sex scenes break up what seems to be the tedium of daily life, but Ben-Asher’s resolute presentation of copulation soon leads the viewer to desire small mercies like Shay’s tying of a young girl’s hair.

The Slut raises more questions than it answers, but perhaps that’s its greatest strength. It isn’t a picture of easy answers or broad characters. Audiences can marvel at the apparent neglect shown to Tamar’s daughters by their mother and they can negatively cast down the woman for seeking out further encounters at great cost. They can (and they will) judge a decision she makes late in the film. And they can observe, wait and wonder.

It could be argued that The Slut is too detached for its own good. There are some compelling scenes involving Shay and the construct of what seems like a family dynamic. Tamar’s distance from this is apparent, but the audience is shown little to explain it. What causes her to draw back to promiscuous patterns? And what of the costs it enacts on her kids?

As good as the performances are and as grand as the cinematography is, Ben-Asher’s film labours under its own incompleteness. Its ambiguity is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness, leaving the impression that The Slut is an imperfect film that frankly cannot be anything but imperfect.

Follow Us