36 Fillette (Catherine Breillat / France, 1988):

Sexuality is both Calvary and power weapon for Catherine Breillat's heroines, never more than during the formative excruciation of adolescence. The Jan Brady of the filmmaker's trilogy of puberty-agonizing explorers, bracketed by A Real Young Girl and Fat Girl, the 14-year-old protagonist (Delphine Zentout) is possibly the most conventionally attractive, though no less burdened by a changing body seemingly on display for the entire world. Her heavy bosom and thick thighs obviously no longer fitting in the eponymous kiddie-dress measurement, Zentout's sullen jailbait ditches her bored family, camped out on the overcast beachfront, for the local nightclub, where her dark petulance catches the eye of the middle-aged roué (Etienne Chicot) whose depravity now only produces jaded yawns ("Busted her sphincter," he casually says of a disco-hopping acquaintance). More than one reviewer has recognized Chicot's resemblance to Brando's buttery cocksman in Last Tango in Paris, but where Bertolucci's couple slammed together by the first reel, Breillat keeps the coitus continually interruptus, the better to stretch her characters' sexual anxiety -- Zentout's little rendezvous with the older man at his posh hotel, real-time groping kept mostly in medium distances, is the centerpiece, an extended waltz between the man's sheer desire to wipe the smile off the tease's face and the girl's developing awareness of her body-politic. Courting intimations of cynical worldliness despite her virginity ("I got dumped twice. Now I'm immune," she tells Jean-Pierre Léaud in a rare tantrum-free instant), Zentout comes to see her eminent despoiling as an entrance into the adult universe that she, for all her rebellion, yearns to belong to. Fumbling three times with her somnolent Humbert Humbert, she at last gets her wish with a gawky colleague, and the girl's post-defloration, freeze-framed grin signals a relief that, given Breillat's even bleaker view of adult sexuality, just amounts to tumbling from the proverbial grill onto the fire. With Stephane Moquet, Olivier Parniere, and Jean-François Stevenin.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home