Unusually sentimental for a film where pussy is the word of the moment, Lila Says follows in the tradition of Spanglish by using a college entrance essay as its framing device, but Ziad Doueiri’s follow-up to 1998’s well-received West Beirut doesn’t hawk a naïve liberal’s vision of assimilation and cultural identity. Lila (Vahina Giocante) goes to live in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in Marseille and tortures everyone there with her unbridled expression of her sexuality—it’s an obvious put-on, but no one seems to realize this. Chimo (Mohammed Khouas) is instantly hooked, as is his best friend Mouloud (Karim Ben Haddou) and Lila’s nutzoid lesbian aunt (Edmonde Franchi), all for different reasons: The abyss between the girl’s legs at once inspires Chimo’s admission essay and serves as a fountain of youth for the aunt and a restricted gateway for the film’s alpha males, who, like Lila, similarly use sex as intimidation, but to drastically different ends; Lila uses her sexual identity to assert female equality and Mouloud uses his sex to negate her resolve. In the sense that Giocante’s sexuality is the be-all-end-all of the world here, the actress has earned comparisons to Brigitte Bardot’s famous tart from And God Created Woman, but this ignores Doueiri’s more authentic vision of female self-ownership. The obviously naïve Lila threatens to become a caricature of herself but Doueiri soon reveals the girl’s sexed-up vernacular as a willful defense mechanism. A scene inside a cemetery is almost abstractly expressionistic in the way the director charts the impulses of Lila’s ever-evolving relationship to Chimo and the rationale for her aggressive sexual appetite using the subtlest implications—no words, only simple stolen glances. This elliptical exchange of ideas and emotion extends to other scenes as well: Chimo’s gorgeous mother coming to her senses at the local market when she sees Lila buying some fruit, and the film’s heart-stopping tour-de-force, an extended love scene between Lila and Chimo on a bicycle. Set to Air’s beautiful “Run,” this sequence is an ethereal and innocent vision of sexual awakening and initiation, where every act between the two lowers is delicately and willfully negotiated. Doueiri often relies entirely too much on the film’s soundtrack of songs, but he cleverly uses not one, not two, but three songs from Vanessa’s Daou’s Zipless, surely one of the greatest make-out CDs in history, to further point to the myth of Lila’s adolescent code—one that only Chimo’s sensitive heart is willing and patient enough to want to unlock.
- Samuel Goldwyn Films
- 89 min
- Ziad Doueiri
- Ziad Doueiri, Mark Lawrence, Joelle Touma
- Vahina Giocante, Mohammed Khouas, Karim Ben Haddou, Edmonde Franchi, Lotfi Chakri, Hamid Dkhissi, Carmen Lebbos, Stéphanie Fatout, Ghandi Assad
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