December 7, 2008
88 Minutes — January 6, 1989
Romance / Drama
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; Fat Girl; The Last Mistress]
Lili is a 14-year-old girl, staying with her family in a tiny camper while on holiday at the French coast. The sun never shines. Her father is miserable and spends his time listening to sports with headphones, her mother is cold and distant, and her older brother is the source of sibling annoyance we can all identify with.
She is trying to get her head around the fact that her body is changing–drastically–while inside she remains a barely teenage girl. We’ve just entered the Catherine Breillat zone, where entire films are made attempting to describe the mind of a pubescent girl as she is both awed by her body’s power and scared shitless by it in equal measure. The title apparently refers to the size of the dress that Lili is literally busting out of as we see her head towards a disco with her older brother in search of–well, what is she really in search of? Not sex, exactly.
She wants to be older, to act older, to be taken seriously by older people (men), but has no way of knowing how adults speak to each other or act towards each other.
The plot, such as it is, involves Lili getting her brother, JP to get permission for the both of them to go out to the local disco in the seaside town where they’re camping. They hitchhike in an aging playboy’s BMW. She acts like a complete brat (or, a 14-year-old) and ends up screaming and leaving the car. The man says, under his breath “what’s the matter, I didn’t look at you enough?” And he’s right. She wants to be looked at and admired, but on her terms, which change on a minute-by-minute basis.
She gets her own ride by a middle-aged man who calls her a bitch when she doesn’t let his hand stay on her leg while he drives. She goes to a cafe where a famous musician looks up to see her devour him with her eyes. They have the only meaningful conversation of the film. She meets the group at the disco where a $20 gets her past the bouncer. There is clumsy passion–she encourages, then changes her mind. The Playboy and she then take a walk and end up in his hotel room where she promises nothing will happen.
This dance between the two–a young girl and a 40something balding convertible guy–is the main emotional focus of the film. Is she teasing him on purpose? How serious is she about calling the cops on him? Does he even want to sleep with her? He mentions that he no longer possesses the stamina to keep up with a teenager in the wee hours of the morning.
But the most important question to Lili is: how badly does she want to lose her virginity?
Much like the main character in A REAL YOUNG GIRL, Lili is more excited about the loss of virginity on paper than she is in practice. And she is an awful girl to hang out with. Is her youth and inexperience worth the trouble? That’s what the older man has to figure out. She feels that the boys her age at the campsite are beneath her, though they’d be a much better, if bumbling, partner for first time lovemaking.
Lili is another protagonist from the Breillat filmography who isn’t a victim or a seductive Lolita, but has every terrible behavioral trait that many young girls have–brattiness, boredom, meanness, taunting, put-downs, and mostly in Lili’s case, teasing–both in the childlike sense and in the sexualized sense. It’s hard to see what the older man can possibly get out of an interlude with Lili that wouldn’t be much more fulfilling with one of the many women available to him in the town. She simply isn’t that fantastic.
However, as a character, she certainly is well-rounded. Played by a 16-year-old actress named, Delphine Zentout, Lili must be both annoyingly adolescent and often charmingly seductive. She needs to be awkwardly sexual–to use her body and the hair over her eyes to make the men in the film–of all ages–believe she’s worth the trouble.
As usual after seeing something by Catherine Breillat, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the quality or what it’s trying to say. But I will continue to praise her for bringing stories that men can’t tell to the screen. She claims that this film is semi-autobiographical. But don’t most films by most directors include many incidents taken from real life. The difference here is that those incidents don’t show the main character in a particularly good light.
Get past the old man / young girl dynamic and think of it as the study of one realistic 14-year-old trying to find her way in the world. Thank you Ms. Breillat.
Two sidenotes: There is no bodily fluid in this film. A first. And this may be the single worst DVD transfer in the technology’s history. You’ll want to watch this on the smallest screen possible. I’m old enough to remember the unacceptable quality of foreign VHS tapes back in the 80s, so I should thank my lucky stars that this one isn’t that bad. However, ouch.
36 Fillette @ Amazon
, Catherine Breillat