Rarely does a movie so totally take on the shadings and atmosphere of one
performance, but this one's immersed in it. It is at once sweet and
incredible, mastered by an actress in a role of sexual impetuousity -- if
not extravagance - the like of which is singular and haunting. The character
of the film derives from its source, a piece of erotic literature that
seduced the French reading public who made it a best seller and inspired the
Italians who put up the money to make it a movie.
It's all about what 16-year old Lila (19-year old Vahina Giocante) says, what
comes out of her sensual mouth -- her brazen openness about matters sexual.
She and her dialogue are attention-getters like none others and, once you're
into that trap of fascination, she's got you by... well, you know. And
that's what she does with Chimo (Mohammed Khouas).
Of all the boys who hang out around the Arab quarter of Marseilles, it's
Chimo (Mohammed Khouas) Lila has eyes for, and she soon lets him know it.
"Do you want to see my p___y?," she asks the first time they're alone. And
then she watches with vixenous eyes to see his expression change as he
registers what she has said and weighs it against its meaning. She is
taunting and provocative but pays off the promise of the invitation.
Chimo's character in this is critical. He's beautiful looking. For a boy of
19, he might be considered backward in his sexual knowledge and general
sophistication, but that may be a natural consequence of his environment and,
more particularly, his association with the 3 losers he pals around with.
He's a dreamer who likes to write and his performance in class brings his
teacher to his home where she informs his mother (Carmen Lebbos) that if he
will write a piece of 30 pages she will sponsor him for a scholarship in a
Parisian college. That he chooses to reject it, out of fear of going outside
his zone of comfort, says a lot about his natural passivity and frame of
But, now, with the effect on him of his new friend, and the cataclysmic
emotional effect she has on his orientation, a small revolution of thought is
taking place. He puts his experiences with her on paper, and therein lies
the manuscript that becomes this story.
Lila, exquisitely sensual in every frame, continues her enticements, which
get more and more outrageous, as when she asks if Chimo would film her as she
makes love with 20 men. 50 men. 100. She tells increasingly provocative
tales, alluding to men, to sexual exploits, to the unique nature of making
love on a bale of hay in an American red barn. She is mystifying as she
challenges him over and over, in public and in private, searching his eyes
for a reaction, the two of them locked into a connection that cries for
When Mouloud (Karim Ben Haddou), the most dangerous of Chimo's circle, fixates
on her with his macho insistence, things take a perilous turn.
Giocante, as directed by Ziad Doueiri, is both an angelic and demonic
presence. She's viscerally alive and powerfully erotic. Her relentless
flirtation with her lover and with cinematographer John Daly's camera makes
the kind of deep impression that penetrates the mind with an effect that is
as ambiguous as it is enduring. It's not so much that she breaks new ground
for candidness about sex, but that she does it with such dazzling devastation
and vital force. This is not the province of every actress, however
It's a role and a performance that invests this coming-of-age film with a
sultriness and originality all its own. What Lila's character and her
cool passion is truly about will be glimpsed in a temporary clearing of
the suggestive fog that surrounds her... only at the end.
Take it from me, you will not want to wait for cable or DVD to see it.
~~ Jules Brenner