Saturday, January 25, 2014
JEFF OF THE CINEFILES: HALL OF FAME: FILE #0029: LILA SAYS (2004)
Directed By: Ziad Doueiri
Written By: Ziad Doueiri, Mark Lawrence & Joelle Touma
Based On The Book by: Chimo
Cinematography By: John Daly
Editor: Tina Baz
Cast: Vahina Giocante, Moa Khoaus, Karim Ben Haddou, Lotfi Chakri
In a poor Arab neighborhood, the nineteen years old Chimo lives alone with his mother and is a talented natural writer. His school teacher offers him the chance to study in Paris, inclusive with a letter of recommendation, but his mother can not afford and Chimo stays. His three best friends are completely losers and scoundrels. When the shy Chimo meets the gorgeous and sexy new-arrival in the ghetto Lila, who lives with a deranged aunt, his gross friend Mouloud falls for her. However, Chimo becomes close to Lila, who seduces him with her sexual games, telling him about her perverted sexual experience. The inexperienced Chimo falls in love for her, but he does not know how to declare his love for the girl. When Mouloud sneaks and listens to a private conversation between Lila and Chimo, he concludes that the girl is a whore, with tragic consequences.
Thought the film Is certainly understandable, as it is a love story and coming of age tale that can be seen as universal. It is also a film that classifies more to French culture.
This film to me leaves you in a trance as you watch it. Hypnotizing you as it goes along. The film seems to be a seduction as it slowly puts you at ease, while you follow it and the story begins to take shape. The longer you stick with it, the more it pulls you in with it's charm until finally. You find yourself caring and concerned with the places it goes. As you are a voyeur pulled Into it's actions and the consequences of them. Which you might see coming.
It's an older more college age character coming of age story. That deals with Desire, Seduction, sexual awakening, lust, obsession and jealousy.
At first it feels tawdry, but it slowly reveals a certain open eyed innocence. It's not as exploitive as you might think, It will be. The film has moments of genuine beauty that are Stan alone. Yet conjure up so many emotions all in the span of a few short minutes.
The film is one of caged passion. It might have a grand story, but it is full of love that goes and grows beyond the story and issues the film deals with.
The film has something to say, not a simple love story. Though it is erotic. The erotic is to he'd more with romance then smut. It is a film very much of it's location and community, taking place in France and dealing with neighborhood racism. It's themes are universal as somewhat exotic as an American watching it.
I will admit to having a bias as I have been programmed a bit to believe French or European cinema have more depth and the love stories are somehow more true. As it is more emotional and deal with more intimate issues then American movies which have the attitude. No matter what love will conquer all, though must be fully entertaining at the same time. European films feel like they are there to tell the story of the relationships good, bad and ugly. Take their time and don't seem to care so much of they are entertainment as much as keeping an emotional truth.
It just seems that European cinema is more focused and concerned on character over plot where as American cinema seems to do the reverse in most cases. Though the language of cinema is universal and always changing.
The film feels like a romantic poem that says all the right things and even tackles aspect you would never think to explore yourself. Though it is a raw coming of age tale.
I originally decided to watch this film because of actress Vahina Giocante Who I saw in the French film ANGEL SHARKS and never really saw in another film except for a small role in the film BLUEBERRY. This was one of a few films in which she not only plays a lead, but an actual role of substance that doesn't rely entirely on her looks. She seems to be a bit of a reclusive actress or only stars in films when she wants too, it might also be she isn't offered as many. This is actually her best role to date that I have seen her in. Like the film her character plays at being tough, cynical and experienced, but underneath is sensitive and fragile.
Moa Khouas as the films protagonist Chimo is Based on the Writer of this tale and tortured love interest reminds to of James Franco in looks and acting style. The book was dropped of as a Diary on a publishers doorstep. So it was never known if the tale is true or not, but written as if it is truth.
The film walks a delicate line. It feels like the type you would see coming out in the 1970's. It tackles something that could easily been exploitive, lightweight and/or disposable. Yet it takes it seriously even during the rough patches it never lets you Down, nor does it leave.
The film is haunting. It is one that never leaves your memory and to me. While not making a big deal of it is quite an achievement.
Finally after a few years of being in awe of this film I decided to read the book on which It was based. What I found from the book was that it went a lot more Into the background and status of the neighborhood. Which they dwell the mentality and day to day actions and activities. The book is also more raunchy then the sexual language and nature if the film which is raw bit not as explicit as one would expect.
What I took away from both the film and the boom is that even before the Internet Lila uses this sex talk and provocative suggestions to make herself a sexual fantasy totally Into anything and everything, while truly being innocent. She only does this to attract one boy in particular, As he is too shy to make a move and everyone else in the neighborhood is all too eager, without her actually saying anything to them to see her in a purely sexual way.
What struck me as special about this film, Is it is a coming of age romance but more serious and hardcore then the usual ones that rarely speak or acknowledge sex. This one starts off and delves deeply into erotic attraction. Then let's the romance play out through list, desire, trust and fantasies.
Having loved this movie I finally read the book it is based on. The film stays faithful to the book though of course adds some structure and a little nuance before adding and changing the ending to be more hopeful a kind of Hollywood ending in a French film. Where as the book was more insightful, poetic in it's description and language and also more heartbreaking. In the film the camera is poetic itself though more with images and moments then with words. The book also focused on the racial and criminal element of the neighborhood. While the film has a Hinton that and also deepens the relationship between mother and son.
A true discovery