Though heavily marketed as a Gallic variation on Lena Dunham’s Girls, Sophie Letourneur’s middling Les Coquillettes has more in common with the prolific Hong Sang-soo’s leisurely lacerating character studies. The assumed tie to Dunham is that Letourneur here more or less portrays herself, Sophie, a director attending a film festival with her two best film-industry pals, Camille (Camille Genaud) and Carole (Carole Le Page), all of whom are looking to indulge in some heavy flirtations and minor indiscretions. The film is told in flashback, as the girls gossip at Carole’s place, and further intimates a certain interest in memory and storytelling as it progresses, but seems tragically far more interested in the uneventful now.
Les Coquillettes‘s more nagging element concerns the fact that it treats women’s hungry and open (hetero)sexuality as at once outrageous and passé. A great deal of the film’s dramatic lather comes from each girl’s attempts to get laid while at the festival. Despite the event being overrun by eligible men, young and old, Carole can’t nail one down to save her life, whereas Sophie has some fate-driven dream of bedding Louis Garrel, who appears briefly in a cameo. Indeed, the film deserves at least a modicum of credit for nailing the atmosphere of a film festival, upfront and behind the scenes. The inclusion of Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as Sophie’s reappeared ex-fling gives an occasional sense of energy and presence sorely lacking in the bulk of the film.
Then there’s Camille, whose cloyingly desperate attempts to monopolize the attentions of a festival regular seem to be of particular interest to Letourneur. To be fair, the filmmaker does offer a satisfying, if also predictable, conclusion to Camille’s desperation, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that a substantial percentage of Letourneur’s would-be character study is dedicated to concentrated Schadenfreude that’s unbalanced and without any real narrative weight. Le Page’s character is given nothing to do but be graceful and self-possessed while trying to snag some tail, and even Sophie with her foolish dream-errand is given a certain elegant poise; the only time they’re truly ineloquent is when they’re complaining about how annoying Camille is.
Of course, Letourneur tries to spice things up with some details, including Sophie’s jilted ex and a lover’s awkward attempt at trying to have anal sex with her, but the tone of her film is safe indifference, only passably tinged with frustration and melancholy. She gets the atmosphere of the film festival right, but the talk feels at once indistinct and rigid. What’s worse, Letourneur takes very careful precautions never to put herself on the line, unless one were to find her crush on Garrel quite outrageous. This willingness to distance herself from the emotional pitfalls she’s set up separates her from genuinely brave artists like Hong and Dunham, and the outcome is a passable yet essentially hollow insinuation of the lives of women.