THE PURGATORY OF BEING A WALLFLOWER: ELIZA HITTMAN’S IT FELT LIKE LOVE

The list of “10 Things” we threw out there yesterday was meant to be something of a challenge–to ourselves as much as to our fellow filmmakers. And so it’s only fair to give props to filmmakers that we come across who have already substantially met or exceeded the challenge. One of them is IT FELT LIKE LOVE, written and directed by Eliza Hittman. The film premiered at Sundance 2013 in the NEXT category, which features films made for micro-scale production budgets (in some places it says <$50,000; in other spots, it’s more vague). IT FELT LIKE LOVE,  you may have also noticed, was selected by Ted Hope to be part of his brainchild A2E program that encourages filmmakers to find new and innovative ways of becoming more entrepreneurial.

Enough with the laurels! So, IT FELT LIKE LOVE is an engrossing portrait of a young girl’s sexual awakening within a rough beach neighborhood in Brooklyn. Filmmaker Hittman offers the viewer an extremely deft handling of small, sensual moments in the life of a wallflower trying desperately to peel herself off the wall. With its commitment to working-class characters and mastery of realism, it brings to mind the work of British filmmakers Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, and Ken Loach. With its focus on female sexuality, a somewhat tamer version of Catherine Breillat.

it_felt_like_loveFourteen year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti) starts the story off following around her more experienced friend, Chiara (Giovana Salimeni), and Chiara’s doting boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), as the latter two do what teenage lovers do–argue and make out a lot. Watching them leaves Lila pining for a love-interest of her own. It finally seems to arrive in the form of Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), an older, tattooed boy who hardly notices Lila when they first meet. But Lila is determined. She doggedly pursues Sammy–to work, to his house–until she leads herself smack into a world of edgy teenage boys who get high, rap, and watch porn. The most sinister of the boys, Devon (watch out for this guy: Nick Rosen), invites Lila to get her ass smacked with a ping-pong paddle after she bluffs and says she loves sex and has considered being a porn star because “the hours are good.” Another confrontation with the boys constitutes the jarring climax of IT FELT LIKE LOVE, and if anywhere, this is where we felt the film let us down. Lila visits Sammy’s house, and finds him and his boys there hanging out watching TV. When they tease her, she agrees to give all three boys blowjobs. One by one, the boys whip out their penises. Lila is frozen with shock. Sammy tells her his dick doesn’t like her. After this assault on her illusions, Lila soothes herself with a music box. In the final scenes, she finds a surrogate form of the voluptuousness she so desperately yearns for by immersing herself in the crashing waves of the ocean at night. The film closes with Lila and Chiara performing their routine at the recital. The girls, all made up and dressed provocatively, dance their young hearts out, and seem both innocent and experienced at the same time. No longer girls, not yet women.

IT FELT LIKE LOVE is pretty great regional cinema with a light and very human touch. We do regret slightly that unlike its European counterparts (let’s not even mention how far the French would take a story like this…), the film takes us to the precipice of something really moving, disturbing, and dangerous, only to pull back at the last second. Its treatment of youthful female sexuality is measured and frank, but strikes us as a little timid as well. The moment Lila steps into the house containing Sammy and his boys–and their oozing Brooklyn machismo–we feel a real sense of peril. In fact, the encounters with Sammy and his boys are the most interesting and crackling sequences in the film–and the most dangerous. The film may have been more powerful if it had focused on that danger, but it also would have risked slipping into the sensational (is that so bad?). As it stands, it stages the encounter, flirts with it, then recoils. But we definitely think Eliza Hittman is the kind of “sustainable talent” Soderbergh would like someone to give him half-a-billion dollars to develop.

We can’t seem to find a trailer for this one. But here’s the filmmaker and members of the cast being interviewed at Sundance:

2 responses to “THE PURGATORY OF BEING A WALLFLOWER: ELIZA HITTMAN’S IT FELT LIKE LOVE

  1. Pingback: “It Felt Like Love” coming soon to IFC | Winter Film Awards·

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