All art is religious. That is to say, all art aims to speak about, illustrate, or otherwise connect people with the transcendent and universal, to what theologian Paul Tillich called our “Ultimate Concern.” Even in secular contexts or paradigms, we are often left to resort to religious or spiritual language to describe the most affecting works of art and our response–this film/music/painting/poem/story was awesome, miraculous, heavenly, sublime, sacred. In this vein, Stephen Cone makes films which are religious in the best sense–through richly developed characters, his cinema touches the transcendent by way of the immanent. His latest film, Princess Cyd, is just such a work of (religious) art.
Generous and sympathetic, Princess Cyd is a coming-of-age tale which transcends its portrayed generations. Both Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) and her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence) “grow up” as they spend more time together. Their divergent postures and paradigms gently challenge the other person towards what can only be called a conversion; they are different women for having encountered and embraced the other. Cyd has been sent to spend time with her aunt in order to gain some space from her depressive father. This summer sabbatical isn’t one done out of reluctance; Cyd is quietly eager to be around her aunt, a semi-famous novelist and intellectual. Both women still carry the grief and wounds of the loss of Cyd’s mother, Miranda’s sister. Both begin to find healing through the other’s presence.
Jessie Pinnick and Rebecca Spence give the most raw and authentic performances from any 2017 film I’ve seen. Spence bears all in her portrayal of a middle-aged single woman who appears to have found success and serenity, even as Cyd’s presence pushes her into new territory. Miranda initially appears confident and comfortable in her own skin, and by the film’s finale we can say that she is, in fact, confident and comfortable. But what occurs in between these moments isn’t insignificant or lacking impact; Miranda is a transformed, scene by scene, moment by moment. While much of this identity formation is interior, Cone’s direction and Spence’s posture and expressions wonderfully communicate this interiority. Similarly, Cyd’s intellectual and sexual awakening parallels Miranda’s in its interiority, but from a much different stage in life. Different people have different journeys, and Cyd’s is one of expanding her horizons in unexpected ways, both through her relationship with her aunt and her newfound romance with Katie (Malic White), a barista Cyd meets in Miranda’s neighborhood. Cone films Cyd and Katie’s relationship with tenderness; it’s awkward, silly, gentle, and very human. (I imagine some more conservative Christian readers would not approve, so a caveat spectator: the film explores both sexuality and spirituality with a vulnerability which may make you uncomfortable. The best art challenges us even as it enriches.)
Cyd and Miranda are wonderful, deeply likable characters, and Cone gives us the patience and space to spend quality time with each of them. They’re often lit with natural sunlight, the golden rays dancing on their faces or illuminating their hair with angelic beauty. In one such beautiful scene, Cyd lies out in the backyard in a bathing suit to relax and sunbathe. Against her typical stance, Miranda joins her. They talk of sex, religion, family, loss, love. Later, when Miranda has a soiree for her neighborhood friends, Cyd borrows a tuxedo from Katie and arrives with her hair down and a wise grin on her face. She’s immediately welcomed into the party, fitting right in with the eclectic mix of attendees from a mosaic of generations, races, sexualities, and backgrounds. They eat, laugh, share stories and poems; they are simply being together. After the soiree, Cyd and Miranda have their biggest confrontation, but it’s not a cheap melodramatic blowup. What occurs feels so real-to-life, so sincere, as to be improvised, as if we have been invited into the intimacy of Miranda’s home and are standing in the kitchen too. We are welcomed guests at this party Such is Princess Cyd, an invitational, romantic, affecting, religious-in-the-best-sense-of-that-word work of art. In the parables of Jesus, He often uses the metaphor of a banquet or feast to describe the kingdom of heaven. I think the kingdom could also be a soiree just like Miranda’s.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6053440/