It Felt Like Love
Runs Fri., May 9-Thurs., May 15 at Northwest Film Forum. Not Rated. 82 Minutes
When should your daughter start having sex? 14? 16? Prom night? College? Girls are entering puberty earlier and earlier—owing to what hormonal-environmental triggers is for scientists to decide. Eliza Hittman’s Brooklyn-set indie is emphatically local and personal, a kind of case study in adolescence. Her 14-year-old heroine Lila (the quietly compelling Gina Pierasanti) is, like all teens, bombarded by images of sexuality. Lila’s more developed BFF Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) is already churning her way through eager boys, which Lila observes with a mix of queasiness and envy. These two girls are competitors, Hittman suggests, and boys are a way to gain status. When Chiara disses a tattooed beach hunk, Lila leaps at the challenge: He’s a bad boy, college age, a trophy.
Lila’s calculating pursuit of Sammy (Ronen Rubenstein) leads to some dicey situations, but those are situations of her choosing. In this well-observed coming-of-age tale, Hittman respects Lila’s autonomy. She deliberately—and sometimes mortifyingly—tests boundaries with her widowed father, a neighbor boy, even her pet dog. It Felt Like Love could easily treat her sexual awakening for shock value, but Hittman never pushes her low-key debut drama in that direction. The unhurried mood is all summer light and marsh grass; the camera lingers on faces and body parts—like something from Larry Clark, but with a girl’s perspective. Lila also reminds me of poor Dawn Weiner in Welcome to the Dollhouse, with no control over her inappropriate impulses, yet Hittman isn’t interested in grotesquerie or humiliation.
Not much happens here, but I like what little does. If Lila doesn’t live up to her precocious ambitions, that feels like a small victory.