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:: Princesses

Director Fernando León de Aranoa's account of Spanish prostitution is almost all surface, concentrating so heavily on the personal and professional ordeals of its characters that it barely exhibits any bigger interest in the external forces that conspire to place women in such circumstances.

Caye (Candela Peña) walks Madrid's streets for cash, though her lonely existence is irrevocably changed after she befriends a Dominican named Zulema (Micaela Nevárez) who's part of a new breed of immigrant whores resented by Caye's racist, beauty shop-ensconced colleagues. Both dreamers, Caye pines for a boob job and a true love who'll pick her up from work, while Zulema yearns to acquire legal papers that will allow her to rejoin the son she left behind in her native country; the two doggedly maintaining hope for a better future even as they suffer the painful realities - humiliation, physical abuse, disease - inherent in their careers.

Working from his own script, Aranoa shrewdly downplays his narrative's histrionics and wraps Caye and Zulema in a non-judgmental embrace that, when coupled with Peña and Nevárez's subtly modulated, sympathetic performances, gives the proceedings a compassionate warmth.

Yet whereas the film taps into the low self-esteem and compensatory denial of its protagonists, it stumbles with regard to the character of Caye, mitigating any sincere pathos for her plight by refusing to explain why she's willingly chosen such a wretched vocation.

Princesses feels not only a tad thin but redundant, proving to be simply another depiction of flesh trade hardships told with restrained grittiness, bittersweet pathos, and little of the depth that might help it stand out from similar films.