A Real Young Girl (Catherine Breillat / France, 1976):
(Une Vraie Jeune Fille)

Catherine Breillat’s debut, skipping over infancy straight to queasy adolescence, where her first heroine (Charlotte Alexandra) takes anguished form -- jailbait but already stacked, sullen and utterly uncomfortable, "I hate people" directed at the froggy adults riding the train with her. Summer with her folks (Rita Maiden, Bruno Balp) at the farm is the setting, a closeup of sticky flypaper announces the season’s horrors-to-be, she breaks the tedium of a meal by dropping a spoon on the floor then inserting it into her panties. Later, helping Ma with the chickens, the girl smashes an egg in her hand and ponders the runny yolk, the first of the fluids she's to dabble in over the course of the narrative -- other secretions include vomit, piss, blood, cum, and ear wax. "Disgust makes me lucid," she says. Bikinied Alexandra sunning herself in the garden is out of Lolita, yet promptly followed by her cramming the bottle of lotion in her ass; the image, like the many crotch shots, tangible yet shorn of the soft-core titillation expected by the producers, who shelved the finished work for 25 years. No Emmanuelle romping for Breillat, whose curtness is rigorous when surveying the conflict -- violence, really -- of the young woman’s bludgeoning body, the male gaze’s demand for the starlet’s nubile sexuality subsequently subverted by the filmmaker’s feel for gross-outs and puberty revolt. Stranded among the derisively sketched adults, Alexandra retreats into autoeroticism and fantasy, whether imagining her dad’s cock saluting her or, in the money shot, watching herself naked, spread-eagled with barbed wire on the floor as hunky dream-lover Hiram Keller feeds bits of earthworm into her. She cannot help mixing envy with contempt as she listens to a saccharine warbler on the radio ("Suis-je une petite fille..."), yet to Breillat innocence is little more an imaginary state, something to yearn for while dealing with life, one orifice at a time. With Georges Guéret, and Shirley Stoler.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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