Sunday, December 11, 2005

Day 72: A Real Young Girl

A frank, graphic look at the burgeoning sexuality of a pubescent girl, A Real Young Girl is nauseating, appropriately so, in its treatment of youthful, pubescent eroticism.  The titular character, Alice, is home on her family's farm for her summer holiday from boarding school, and she spends a great deal of her time playing with herself, rubbing her naughty bits with household items while concocting elaborate sexual fantasies about those around her.  With its dreamy, unfocused, and blown-out photography conflating the textural details of a broken egg in the palm of Alice's hand or dead fly ridden flypaper with her genitalia, it feels like a standard exploitation movie from the 70s somehow got mixed in with the more extreme elements of David Lynch's work.  This is the film's greatest success, tingeing Alice's inexpert experimentations with a visceral sense of shame and disgust.

That the film is equally inexpert only adds to the overall sense of pubescent instability.  Because it has the same aesthetic as both cheap horror and porn, and it zooms in on details that would be more appropriate in the former, there's a continual sense of unease that mirror's the character's.  She's afraid of being caught, of being seen as a sexual being by her parents because it's clear that they'll react by reining her in.  And, as she's already bored and disgusted by her passive-aggressive mother and lecherous, philandering father, being held close to them would be a terrible fate.

While the movie is successful at capturing the feeling of adolescence, its plot is somewhat pedestrian and rote.  Alice lusts after a sweaty, muscular young man who works for the family.  She makes lewd advances, lifting her skirt at him, sitting on the ground without panties and her legs spread when he walks by, watching him pee, but he doesn't seem too interested given her age.  When he does notice her, it brings about his downfall, but, of course, he doesn't matter, really, since he's just a background player in Alice's adolescent self-absorption.  Were it not for the graphic nature of the film, this would be completely by-the-book, standard awakening of a young girl's sexuality fare.  That the movie is able to transcend such material by exploring it fully and realistically is to its credit.

The film darts in and out of Alice's real life and her fantasy life, and the fantasies are shockingly detailed.  One dreamscape has her bound by barbed wire, spread-eagled while the young worker places a rather large earthworm on her vagina.  This is the most extreme fantasy and one of the highlights of the film, but the other fantasies are no less, um, affecting.  And, given what we know about her family life, these sexual daydreams are actually rather unsurprising and logical.

A Real Young Girl is a hard film to shake once it's over.  It proceeds at a leisurely, dreamy pace that's quite seductive, while the totality of its emotional power is overwhelming.  One of the more interesting film's I've seen about young sexuality, it would make a good, more sophisticated companion piece to Heavenly Creatures.  Unfortunately it lacks inventiveness in its plotline; otherwise, it's a great, extreme film.


Redphi5h said...

I can't take Catherine Breillat films seriously. Intense, inarticulate self-loathing characters and characterisation -- portentous symbols and laden, esoteric interactions standing instead of an appeal to the universality of human experience. A tortured soul making miserly, self-indulgent films under the auspices of the avant-garde. Vomit.

David Wester said...

Nicely put.

This is my first experience with Breillat, but I found it to be an accurate reflection of teenage self-absorbtion, as well as an accurate depiction of the sticky, gooey aspects of sexual biology. I'm not sure if that counts as an appeal to the universality of human experience, but it was something I could relate to.

Having said that, if these are the only tricks in her bag, then I can see how it would be annoying for other subjects.