When many filmmakers approach the young girl searching for love story, they tend to turn it into a game where the young female protagonist's objective is catching the guy, through cute and sometimes provocative means. It's the tried and true teen movie structure—awkward girl transforms herself to be the object of desire for the popular, more sexually advanced male. But what happens when real girls internalize that model as they explore their own sexuality and adulthood? What happens when you take that off the Hollywood stage and situate a film in the often-overlooked working class Brooklyn? Eliza Hittman's film, It Felt Like Love, deftly is walks the line between potentially dangerous consequences of the girl transforming herself for the male gaze and sex object and the rite of passage that is discovering one's own sexuality and the often awkward and mortifying route that discovery can take.
The film opens with long, dialogue-less shots of a day at the beach for Gina Piersanti's young, inexperienced Lila. She has tagged along with her seemingly more mature friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) and Chiara's boyfriend. While the couple has wandered into a house, Lila is left to her own devices. The camera sometimes takes on her point of view as she investigates her surroundings, where the audience has the opportunity to return to their youth and inexperience. Other times, the camera lingers over Lila. While in less adept hands this lingering could be potentially cloying and sentimental, Hittman uses these shots to establish the dichotomy between Lila and the majority of her audience. While the audience may have been young once, this is a different generation whose own rite of passage is unique to their time. These shots of Lila, therefore, establish the difference between her youth and our experience. Much of the tension of the film resides here, since we watch Lila insinuate herself into increasingly, potentially dangerous situations and are unable to do anything about it.
It is clear from the start that Lila is envious of the more mature Chiara, as her friend seems to be maturing as our society suggests a young female should—using her sex to hold onto the guy, being the sex object he desires. Chiara's current boyfriend is jealous that there have been other boys before him; however, it is unclear if this is factual or not as the camera focuses on Chiara's face when they discuss this. In this scene, in particular, the actors' subtle performances are crucial in establishing the ambiguity. It's a double-edged sword for the character. If she confirms that she is not a virgin, then she's the whore and less desirable to her boyfriend; while on the other hand if she says she is a virgin, then she's less sexually experienced and desirable.
While Chiara's boyfriend is her age, Lila has set her sights upon an older acquaintance of Chiara's, Sammy (Ronen Rubenstein). She goes through the motions of what she believes maturity to look like, but the plans she devises to see him and get his attention reveals her youth. She packs a bag of groceries and pretends to be in his neighborhood, when she stops by the bowling alley he works at. She tries the cliché smoking of a cigarette to be perceived as older (it's cliché precisely because it is not only so common place in depictions of youth but also because it is the go-to standard for youth's perception of adulthood). It feels as if Lila has a checklist of what it means to be an adult, and she's running through the pieces one by one.
As she moves along this checklist, Lila puts herself in situations that are cringe-worthy at the very least and potentially dangerous. One of the most pivotal and challenging scenes comes when Lila has invited herself to Sammy's apartment. It is in this scene in particular where Hittman's work as a director shines through. She is able to coax out the performances from the young actors, not just with dialogue, but also their reactions to the dialogue and actions in the scene. Sammy is not alone, hanging out with the guys, smoking weed and drinking beers. Through close-ups of Sammy's face, Hittman seems to suggest that Sammy is aware of Lila's youth and sensitive to it as she tries to prove her sexual experience. However, in front of his friends, Sammy also seems to be pulled toward acting like one of the guys and going along with the act. That tension demonstrates that it is not only young girls trying to navigate the tricky waters of our porn and sex obsessed culture, but young men are also trying to figure out what manhood looks like.
While the experience of young adults discovering their own sexual nature is nothing new, what Lila and Sammy (to some extent) seem to be grappling with feels very particular to this moment and time. Just as Larry Clark's Kids examined what the teenage years looked and felt like in a very raw way at the end of the previous century, Hittman explores more specifically the expectations and desires of female adolescence in today's society. The success of It Felt Like Love arises from Hittman's ability to challenge the audience with this depiction, while also creating a thoughtful and honest look at her characters. She not only portrays those difficult and embarrassing aspects, but also the comical and naïve parts of self-discovery. And Hittman does all of this with a beautifully shot, seamless film.
It Felt Like Love
It Felt Like Love
Fourteen year old Lila envies the ease with which her best friend Chiara, on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday, deals with boys. Chiara has been sexually active, although she has only gone to third base with her current boyfriend, Patrick. With no experience whatsoever on the sexual front, Lila has no adult guidance with her mother having passed, and she and her father often being at odds with each other. Lila's primary exposure to sex or sexual foreplay is being the third wheel in Chiara and Patrick's outings. In her naivety, Lila believes that what she sees between Chiara and Patrick has the potential to last forever. Regardless of her total inexperience, Lila likes to portray herself as having at least gone to third base, she doing so by mimicking what she hears from Chiara and other sexually active teens. In her own mind, Lila wants to lose her virginity, despite, if she was honest with herself, being more closely emotionally mature to her twelve year old neighbor, Nate, than Chiara, Nate who would most likely be her confidante if she were to tell the truth about the issue of her sexuality. She believes the easiest candidate to be her first is Sammy, an older teen, who purportedly will sleep with anyone. As such, Lila begins to insert herself into Sammy's life, he who would not have even known who she was if she didn't do so. In doing so, Lila begins to place herself in situations where she is not emotionally mature enough to handle without being hurt in any aspect of the word.—Huggo
March 23, 2023 at 03:10 AM