Archive for the “1976” Category

A REAL YOUNG GIRL
1976

November 1, 2008
Netflix DVD
France
French
89 Minutes
Drama
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]

The title translation could more accurately be “A True Young Girl”, it shouldn’t be read as “A Really Young Girl”.

Alice is a French teenager who goes back to her home for summer vacation after being at boarding school. It is the early 1960s. She is horrified and intrigued by her budding sexuality and the effect she has on the men of her farming community. She flirts with leather-jacket boys in a soda shop, but her heart (or at least her out-of-control lust) belongs to a skinny, semi-creepy guy who works at the local lumber mill who she names “Jim” in her head. He avoids her come-ons because she’s too young. This doesn’t stop Alice, our heroine, from a rich fantasy life where she and Jim enjoy passionate interludes at the beach, in the woods, at the lumber mill, and in his car.

Alice is incredibly curious and as she’s an only child, she spends her time walking around her parents’ farmland and riding her bike into the small town. She watches TV with her parents and has an incredible crush on pop singers of both genders. She also sees how the cute, female singer captures mens’ attention. Alice isn’t sure how to use her power. She also finds a way to pull her panties down wherever she happens to be. She sits in the surf at the beach, she flashes a passing high-speed train, she touches herself on the tracks, and she makes sure that when she rides her bicycle, everyone gets a quick glimpse of her panties.

The men in the town stare, while the women remember when they used to be the subject of such attention and scorn her forwardness. Alice spills out of her too-revealing bikini, but sleeps in a little-girl nightgown. She “enjoys” the scornful looks her mother gives her when she sits on her father’s lap for just a moment too long.

Because Catherine Breillat is at the helm, we get all manner of fluids. This one has vomit, blood (a chicken is decapitated in close-up), semen (and its female equivalent), suntan oil, urine, soap, water, a crushed egg, milk, fly paper glue, dripping candlewax, tree sap, and somehow, even earwax. Breillat never met a visceral liquid she couldn’t use as symbol. When Alice first arrives home, we linger on flies trapped on flypaper, a dream sequence has Alice tied up with barbed wire. She wants to blossom, but is forced to conform.

Her parents’ relationship isn’t what she first thought. She begins to see her parents as sexual beings, she sits next to a flasher on a carnival ride, she sees how men look at her and can’t decide if she’s flattered or mortified.

This film is a shockingly honest (and explicit) story about the awkward and incomprehensible age when a girl changes into a woman. The body blossoms well before the mind can catch up. The scenes she concocts whereby she makes out on a beach with a pop star she’s seen on TV, includes a lot of rolling around and giggling, but no actual sexual contact. It’s as if she’s trying to learn how actual adults embrace and make love. She has seen some beach blanket films, but isn’t sure what happens after a couple finishes rolling around in the sand. In her most explicit dreams with Jim, no penetration occurs. Alice isn’t sure about the mechanics of lovemaking–she’s going on her teenage instincts which those of us well-past our teen years recognize were probably wrong more often than they were right. Try to remember what you thought sex was back when you were ten or eleven years old. Oops.

Is it good? I’m not sure. I always like a film where young people are allowed to be the sexual beings they’re going to become without some big punishment or morality tale. In slasher films, we see naked bodies just before those naked bodies are killed. This is a frank depiction of a young woman trying to make sense of her feelings about her body and her urges. I feel like it should be championed on that basis. I wasn’t bored, but neither was I riveted. The girl/woman who plays Alice, Charlotte Alexandra, was interesting enough. She had to be an innocent and a lolita in equal measure. She appears to have only made three films after this one, each about a temptress. Typecasting or is this the only role she can competently play?

I’ve read various pieces on this film and I’ve seen Alice’s age listed as young as 14, but I distinctly remember a line where her mother says that she’s going back for her final year of high school. I believe her to be 17 or so. But more important than the numerical age is the process that she’s going through. She admits to being disgusted with her budding body, but then decides to ride her bike down a country road bare-assed.

John Petrakis of the Chicago Tribune wrote something very insightful: “Breillat has long been fascinated with the idea that women are not allowed to go through puberty in private but instead seem to be on display for all to watch, a situation that has no parallel with boys.”

Is Catherine Breillat the single voice for young female sexuality in the movies? Perhaps. This film was completed in 1976, but not released until 2001 due to its content and difficult genre identity. Too artsy and well-acted to be porn. Too explicit to be part of the late 70s golden age of film. Too weird to be embraced by large audiences. What sets A REAL YOUNG GIRL apart is that the writer and director actually went through the urges and body-changes depicted in the film. She has felt the changes in her emotions and body, she hasn’t just read about them or guessed at them like a male director must. This is a very important difference and why I’ve decided to do an informal Catherine Breillat film festival. Spike Lee can direct a more honest MALCOLM X than Oliver Stone could have, John Woo does better Hong Kong than Quentin Tarantino, and Breillat can honestly depict the experiences of females (especially their sexuality) better than a man could.

Someone named Lauren Kaminsky has written a fantastic piece on this film here. Yes, Lauren is female, and yes, she sees things in A REAL YOUNG GIRL that males can’t.

“At its best, A Real Young Girl deals honestly with the uncertainties of an awkward transition, when girls are thrust into womanhood without knowing quite how to handle it. Breillat gets inside Alexandra’s head almost too well, viewing the world outside of it with a juvenile’s listlessness and contempt.” — Scott Tobias.

“The theories about sexuality and trauma artfully advanced in this previously unreleased 1975 debut of director Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl) are more nuanced and intuitive than those of most schools of psychology. Alice (Charlotte Alexandra) is as fixated on her genitals as are the men who expose theirs to her, in fantastic and realist sequences that blur the line between what she desperately wants, what repulses her, and what she actually experiences. While her mother aggressively does housework, complaining all the while about her life, Alice sunbathes and flirts–or more–with her father, who’s having an affair. It’s as if she’s biding her time until she manages to seduce one of his dreamier employees or, better yet, escapes by returning to school at the end of the summer vacation.” — The Chicago Reader

5.5 Metacritic
5.8 IMDB

A Real Young Girl @ Amazon

Catherine Breillat @ Amazon

A REAL YOUNG GIRL

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Written by Michael W. Cummins