Directed by Ziad Doueiri. Starring Vahina Giocante, Mohammed Khouas, Karim Ben Haddou. (2004, NR, 89 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 9, 2005
Doueiri made a small splash a few years ago with his first feature West Beirut, a coming-of-age film about kids growing up amid the ever-changing boundaries of the DMZ and the experience of first love that is complicated by religious differences. In his sophomore effort, Lila Says, Doueiri revisits the task of coming of age, although this time the action moves to an Arab section of Marseilles, and the narrative is based on an eponymous 1996 erotic novel by Chimo. The result, although more sexually provocative, is not nearly as gratifying as was his breakthrough film. The leads, Chimo (Khouas) and Lila (Giocante), are both lovely to look at and good actors. The problem is the story, whose outcome would seem fairly obvious to anyone but a 19-year-old boy like Chimo baffled by the sexual provocations of a 16-year-old girl. Lila, a blond-haired French beauty, drives the Arab boys of the quarter crazy with her short skirts and brazenly sexual demeanor. She gives none of them the time of day until she picks out handsome Chimo to besiege with her sexual come-ons. Their activity goes no further than verbal teasing, a skirt uplifted for the purpose of gazing, and a quick hand-job on a motorbike. While Lila talks of orgiastic sex and filming amateur porn, Chimo maintains a respectful distance. At the same time, his pals egg him on and jeer Lila mercilessly, which leads inevitably to the film’s violent climax and Chimo’s new understanding of the difference between words and actions. The film misses the boat by focusing on Chimo’s sentimental education at the expense of Lila’s eventual degradation. Lila is only viewed through the perspective of the boys’ centerfold fantasies and never gains in dimensionality. Chimo, a budding writer who is nevertheless plagued by a lousy sense of self-worth that has been culturally re-enforced through his outsider’s position in French culture, utters clichés such as his feeling of a dam bursting inside when he thinks of Lila. The whole experience with Lila wakens his authorial juices if nothing else. And as might be anticipated, the film offers little in the way of a cultural collision between the French filly and the Arabian horse. It’s a film about sex (as Lila says, "What else is there?") and a young man’s learning that saying and doing are two different things. Just because a cupcake looks like a tart doesn’t mean it’ll taste like one. Big lesson.