The Sex Life Of The American Teenager Explored In Fantastic 'It Felt Like Love'
Without declaring it a trend of some sort, it is a good sign when it's not even the end of March and two of the most noteworthy films of the year are directorial debuts from women. Both films are also coming of age stories; the first, In Bloom, was Nana Ekvtimishvili's semi-autobiographical snapshot of two teenagers during the Georgian Civil War she co-directed with her husband Simon Gross. The second, Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love, focuses an adolescent Brooklynite. Where In Bloom is a parable for coming of age tale not just for the two girls at the heart of its story but also Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union, It Felt Like Love is far more intimate and specific.
Also making her debut with It Felt Like Love is Gina Piersanti, who takes on the role of 14-year-old Lila. Puberty appears to only have just started to take control of Lila's body and mind, as she spends a summer in Brooklyn following around and curiously peering at her older, more sexually mature friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) and her boyfriend Patrick (Jesse Cordasco). It Felt Like Love ambles along with a lazy sense of aimlessness fitting for the summer of a young high-schooler. New York hasn't seemed this sweltering on the screen since that red hot summer of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing in 1989. But instead of racial tensions boiling over, it's teenage hormones.
Chiara and Patrick are unable to keep their hands off each other, and Lila's eyes are drawn to the bare skin of their bodies in swimsuits. Her gaze is depicted through Sean Porter's dreamy cinematography, curves and flesh focused in tightly to the point of near abstraction. It's never perverse or leering; Lila's emergent curiosity for the opposite sex and the act of sex is regarded with respect and never seen as shameful. To hopefully satisfy this desire she entangles herself with a boy far too old and dumb for herself, the thuggish Sammy (Ronen Rubenstein) who spends his time working the register at an always-empty pool hall or smoking a joint with his boys at home.
Lila is far too smart to get herself involved but she just can't help herself; she knows this, we know this, and the film knows this. The menace of danger hangs over every interaction between Lila and Sammy, and the audience is left helpless as we watch Lila navigate the treacherous waters of being a young woman in a society of patriarchal and structural violence. It's the mistake every teenager knows they've made when they reflect back on their past, but It Felt Like Love never feels judgmental toward Lila and her decisions.
When It Felt Like Love emerges on the screen, the first shot we are greeted with is Lila's face peering at the camera behind a blank expression and painted over with far too much sunscreen. She's at the beach, and the comparison to that famous final shot of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, the most famous of all bildungsroman directorial debuts, is not just invited but also demanded. This audacity is the first sign of a supreme confidence and talent behind the camera in Hittman that unfolds throughout the duration of It Felt Like Love, and hopefully for the rest of a fruitful career.
It Felt Like Love opens today at the Downtown Independent.