Lila Says
directed by Ziad Doueiri
(Sony, 2003)

Lila Says... well, Lila says a lot of things. Suggestive things. Explicit things. Things guaranteed to send the mind of a teenaged boy spinning. The movie opens with her talking about how beautiful and nigh perfect she is, which got me to thinking this is a character I would certainly dislike. That first impression, however, turned out to be quite wrong. Even as Lila is saying all these highly erotic things about herself and the things she has done, there's an underlying element of innocence there I found quite appealing.

She's basically a mystery girl who arrives in a predominantly Muslim section of Marseilles and quickly changes the life of one young Arab, Chimo (Mohammed Khouas), forever. Chimo is already at a crossroads in life as the story begins. His teacher thinks he has enough talent to attend a famous writing school in Paris, yet his family is poor and his gang of friends is basically no good. Which way will he go?

As we watch Chimo join his friends in a robbery, we can see he's heading down the wrong road. Lila (Vahina Giocante) offers him something different, and that leads to great confusion on his part. His friends do not approve when he begins hanging around with Lila -- his best bud, Mahmoud (Karim Ben Haddou), is especially jealous because Lila won't even give him the time of day. His mother isn't a big fan of Lila's either, knowing the kind of reputation she has. Chimo himself doesn't understand Lila at all, which only increases his obsession with her. She seems to come and go as she pleases, turning up at odd times and places; she talks about nothing but sex -- in great detail -- yet he never even puts the moves on her. He's like a deer staring into a pair of onrushing headlights, a puppet on Lila's strings. I felt the same way as a viewer, actually.

The film is surprisingly powerful; you're mesmerized for the first hour, and then the film's final half hour really hits you with a couple of extremely emotional blows.

As the film begins, you get the impression that this is going to be just another erotic movie with little emotional content, but it is anything but that. It's an extremely serious film that really touches you in a number of unusual ways and leaves you quite affected by the movie's shocking climax. I understand the film was rather controversial when it was released in France. It definitely earns its R rating -- but mainly for explicit language and one scene of a violent nature, as there's basically no nudity at all. (Even the naked images in an adult cartoon are blurred -- how stupid is that?) This is a rather shocking movie, but that's a good thing. Most films seem to have an invisible wall that keeps you from truly connecting with the characters, but Lila Says just plows right through that wall from the very start. It makes for quite a refreshing viewing experience, and I think most viewers will be surprised at the depth of their emotional reaction to the film's denouement.

Needless to say, I was deeply impressed with this French film. I've never seen anything quite like it, and I found Giocante nothing short of amazing. She is an intoxicating presence onscreen, and her seemingly effortless performance definitely makes her one to watch for in future years.

by Daniel Jolley
19 August 2006

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