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August, 1963; Alice, 14, an only child, and physically well developed, is home for vacation. She's moody, silent, keeps a diary, and explores tactile sensations with broken eggs, candle wax, ear wax, vomit, urine, blood, and, perhaps, if the summer goes in one very possible direction, semen. Without her underpants, she walks about, rides her bike, and sits on the shore as the tide comes in. She drifts to her father's sawmill and makes eyes at Jim, a 20-something hand with a lean body and a model's face. What will Jim do, and does Alice want to do more than stare and fantasize? Meanwhile, pop music fills the air and the TV screen, and Alice's parents have their own drama. Written by
Although she is playing a 14-year-old, Charlotte Alexandra was actually 20 at the time of filming. See more »
The calendar inside the doorway of the Bonnard home indicates that it's August, 1964; however, TV shows pertaining to the death of Monseigneur Fernand Maillet and the resignation of George Pompidou's first government suggest that it's only 1963, and a TV broadcast of Jacques Anquetil's fourth Tour de France victory suggests that at least one scene with the calendar is set on July 14 (Bastille Day), 1963. See more »
If the sexual awakening of a teenage girl wasn't already a heavily-subversive, abstract concept, then Catherine Breillat's A Real Young Girl can be viewed as one of the damnedest depictions of one of the most damning subjects in cinema history. Catherine Breillat's, who later became renowned her focus on the sexuality of a teenage girl, first film can be viewed as an unabashed masterpiece or a choppy piece of transgressive cinema depending on how you view it. The film possesses some very strong sequences, features a lead actress who is given so much to do and yet so little, and its approach is only odder and more convoluted the more you watch it.
There's a certain mysticism to A Real Young Girl, thanks to the way it approaches its subject which has been identified by some online reviewers as "surrealism." If I employ the term "surrealism," I stutter when trying to define what I mean. Surrealist cinema is one of the many undefined terms in cinema, right up there with mise-en-scene, and the only thing I can manage to conjure up for my interpretation is the use of shocking or ambiguous imagery mixed with a dreamlike effect. According to my own personal definition, A Real Young Girl fits right in under surrealist cinema, concerning Alice Bonnard (Charlotte Alexandra), a fourteen-year-old girl who returns home from a boarding school in France on summer break. She discovers her father has hired a young handyman named Jim (Hiram Keller), who Alice immediately takes a liking to. She begins having graphic sexual fantasies involving Jim, one of which has power to shock you raw and should not be spoiled here. Alice continues with these elaborate yet simultaneously choppy dream sequences, where she seems to hunger for the most explicit sex. Certain flashbacks even involve her masturbating in her younger years, with one scene in particular showing her utilizing a spoon for aid in masturbation.
Breillat is absolutely fearless here, constructing several fantasies in order to achieve a combination of shock and insight into the psyche of a teenage girl. It is this precise approach that has kept her a reputable French director even in modern times. Charlotte Alexandra only elevates this material, often utilizing blanks stares and fits of pleasure for added effect. Her character, however, is pretty vapid, not connecting with many other individuals and only living in this world of dizzying flashbacks and uncertain explicitness. One wonders how young Alice behaves at school and if these sexual tendencies continue in the crowded dormitories back there.
The biggest issue with A Real Young Girl is its greatest strength, which is its abstract depiction of the life of this young girl. The film is a handful, often incoherent, sometimes maddening, and occasionally boring as its artfully tries to obscure what exactly is happening on screen and sometimes leaving Alice behind in a film that directly focuses on her. Breillat has always been a director that leaves a great deal of contemplation on the viewer. Consider her later film Fat Girl and how its graphic, tragic ending could be interpreted in several different ways.
Now imagine that as the entire basis for A Real Young Girl; a film where every scene can be interpreted a handful of different ways. There's nothing wrong with ambiguity in a film, but when a film is predicated so much so off of the ability to deceive and play with the viewer, then its core idea and takeaway points become a muddle. The only thing I can think of is that this film is a showcase for the sexual awakening of a teenage girl in in explicit and heavily graphic form, but Breillat didn't go through all this trouble to make a simple showcase. There needs to be something more and the answer can only be found with either a second or third viewing or the exploration of several different analyses.
Starring: Charlotte Alexandria. Directed by: Catherine Breillat.
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