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Film Review: It Felt Like Love

A young girl's sexual awakening leads to desperation

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It Felt like Love

It Felt like Love

Written and directed by Eliza Hittman

Plays March 3 at 7:30 p.m. at MICA’s Brown Center

Somewhere in middle school—and often earlier—children start to develop an active interest in their sexuality. The schoolyard becomes rife with chatter of who likes who and who did what, and many may remember the combination of self-induced pressure to keep up and pure curiosity that propelled them to their first intimate physical interactions. Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love traces just this.

Set in an indolent Brooklyn summer, Love follows milk-white 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti), whose sexual longings have mounted to the point of choking her ability to think about anything else. Yet, her increasingly risky attempts at acting on her desires are perpetually thwarted; mercifully, the world doesn’t mess with this beautiful teenager who tries ever harder to look sultry. But for Lila, this could not be more discouraging.

To fill her empty summer, she’s in a dance class with her older, faster, tanner friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni). Lila continually falls behind when performing. When she cannot keep the pace, she stops going through the motions and stands aside, mournfully watching her more traditionally sexy counterparts as they go through their choreographed routine. We can practically see her mind’s mopey gears slowly turning, comparing diffident Lila to these assured young women.

She subjects herself to the same comparisons outside the class, almost always playing third wheel to Chiara and her beaux. Parents fear their kids making friends with someone like Chiara. She hopscotches from handsy boyfriend to handsy boyfriend; she follows one into someone’s vacant beach house and canoodles with him in the pool, faux-modestly hesitating to put her hand down his trunks when he tells her “it won’t bite.” At 15, she’s slept with three guys, and she beams as she tells Lila that her current boyfriend, the possessive Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), went down on her for the first time. “It was good, but he definitely needs practice,” she gleefully reports. (“Yeah, I hate it when they need practice,” Lila replies, eyes down, her world-weary, patently fabricated response telling everything: that she envies her friend’s experience tremendously and cannot admit it aloud. Later, in desperation, she pleads with her dog to lick her between the legs.)

At one point, Lila fields a question from Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), a college-aged mutual friend of Chiara’s whom Lila sets her sights on. “Do you have boyfriend?” he asks. “No,” she replies quickly. “Chiara’s always got boyfriends.” “Well, that’s different.” “Why?” the young man asks. “Because she’s needy,” Lila says, poorly disguising her own consuming needs with a spurious show of maturity and wisdom.

Ultimately, it’s Chiara who proves to be the most interesting character in It Felt Like Love. Though she remains in the periphery, she emerges from merely serving as a distorted role model for Lila. She both probes and resists Lila’s obsession with sex, becoming a foil for her exasperated friend. We only wish their roles were reversed. In this sometimes-tedious film, Chiara’s sexual experiences would elucidate more about youthful lust and feminine empowerment than Lila’s.

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