EIFF 09: Surrogate

By Stuart Wood 2009-06-26 06:00:39discussion comments
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In contrast to the bloated running times of many other festival movies this year, Surrogate clips in at just under an hour. That it is better than many of the longer features playing at this year's EIFF is a testament to the strengths of it's director and the performances she elicits from her stars. That she has had to suffer the indignity of having to face calls for a boycott of her movie by certain hypocritical self-promoting British directors is a pity as it distracts from a fantastic drama about human interaction and intimacy.

Surrogate deals with the delicate and controversial issue of what could be crassly called medically-sanctioned prostitution. In order to help him deal with his social disconnect and intimacy issues, Eily's psychiatrist arranges for him to start seeing a sex surrogate, tasked with the job of reintroducing Eily to having physical relationships in a safe and controlled environment. Difficulties arise when his sessions start to bring to the surface the reasons behind his problems and as he opens up, he starts pushing the boundaries of what is supposed to be nothing more than a professional service. His surrogate, Hagar is an intelligent and sensitive woman who cares about her job and the difference she can make to people's lives in doing it, lends a weight and credibility to the defense against the moral high-ground argument that it is nothing more than sanctioned prostitution.

Surrogate deals delicately with a lot of issues that could easily be turned tacky and exploitative in lesser hands. Instead it takes a quiet, studied and more mature approach and, vitally, trusts in the audience's intelligence. Small moments make the movie, rather than dramatic climaxes or shocking scenes. The reasons for Eily's problems are cliched but not illogical or handled in a patronizing manner. The “relationship” between Eily and surrogate Hagar is allowed to develop realistically without ever descending in to twee Hollywood style nonsense. Surrogate marks Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer as someone to watch and for once in this year's EIFF, this is a film that could only have benefitted from being longer.
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