(Une Vraie Jeune Fille)
Format of Official Release: DVD/VHSA Real Young Girl is Catherine Breillat’s first film based on her novel Le Soupirail. This film started the pivotal and controversial career of Breillat with its sexual content that led to it being banned in many countries only to be released in the festival circuit in 2000, twenty-four years after being made. As her other films, A Real Young Girl concerns the theme of sexuality as told through the perspective of a young woman. The intense visual nature of the film makes it difficult to describe exactly what the film actually consists of, as is typical of Breillat’s films, it needs to be seen to be thoroughly understood.
The story itself is rather simple in spite of its visual complexity. It takes place over a period of a young girl’s, named Alice (Charlotte Alexandra), summer vacation from boarding school. At 14 she is at the peak of her own sexual discovery. We are immediately aware of her sexual curiosity when she arrives home and sits at the dinner table. The scene seems to be set normally enough until Alice drops her spoon and as the camera moves down below the table we see her pick it up to pleasure herself as her family continues to eat. A dichotomy that continues throughout the film as she tries to let go of her old childlike self and embrace her new-found sexual nature. Alice becomes withdrawn because of this, even at school as portrayed in one of her flashbacks. She cannot escape her own blossoming physical self and often resides in her room writing in her diary and staring at herself in the mirror.
While her father works at a sawmill and her mother stays at home busy with domestic duties, Alice becomes bored with her surroundings. She becomes obsessed with her own sexual fantasies, and the boundaries between Alice’s daydreams and reality become increasingly blurred as the film progresses. She becomes fixated on Jim (Hiram Keller) an employee at her father’s sawmill. She often visits the sawmill to stare at Jim and fantasize about him in very sexually explicit and bizarre ways. Her thoughts drift beyond being purely sexual and border on the grotesque and gritty nature of her environment. Her interactions beyond the realm of fantasy are awkward as she travels around on her bike to bars and attempts to flirt with men. When she finally does catch the eye of Jim she resorts to acting like a little girl and the encounter falls short of her sexual fantasies.
This film could be scrutinized by its sexual content but such a characterization trivializes the content of this film and all of Breillat’s films. As Breillat states (in defense of often being called the “auteur of porn”), “I take sexuality as a subject, not as an object” (Wiegan). In order to well express the consciousness of her female characters it seems necessary for Breillat to express them visually. Of course, viewers become distracted by this imagery that creates such controversy and her films continue to be labeled as pornographic to this day.
Wiegan, Chris. “A Quick Chat with Catherine Breillat”, Kamera.co.uk, 1999, www.kamera.co.uk/interviews/catherinebreillat.html
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