Most of the story Breillat relates is effectively told. The director exposes her heroine's developing awareness of her womanhood, her explorations of her own body, her increasing knowledge of the power she has to affect men, and the dangers her sexuality can create for her. The viewer is, for instance, shown how Alice's relationship with her parents is colored by her becoming a woman. The girl's mother is presented as disapproving of Alice's dressing in a bikini or some other revealing outfit, and her interactions with her father often include more than a hint of some sexual attraction each feels for the other (the man often touches his daughter as he would a woman, and Alice, in one scene, imagines gazing at her father's penis). These are hardly the only elements of Alice's development that are depicted, however.
In fact, the director has included a number of scenes in which Alice actively explores her sexuality, whether alone or in the presence of others. At different times, the young woman is thus shown examining her naked body, writing about her feelings in her diary, bicycling without underwear, sitting without underwear in the surf, flirting with some man or the other, and the like. At other times, Breillat focuses on Alice's fantasies, disclosing both how she imagines kissing a man while she and a school friend relax at the beach as well as how she pictures herself lying naked before Jim, who, unexpectedly, drops bits of an earthworm onto her pubic hair and vulva. Occasionally, such as the time the girl is shown crawling on all fours in front of Jim with chicken feathers inserted in her rectum, after which the pair have sex, a scene will have a certain vagueness so that the viewer is not certain if he is seeing one of the girl's fantasies, events involving a second person, or a mingling of these two. Some of these scenes are, frankly, bizarre. At times they work, suggesting the explorations of a person coming to grips with her own sexual nature, but, sometimes, they just seem to have been included to shock the viewer, which does lessen the movie's impact.
I cannot help but mention that the performances of the film's actors are consistently good. Charlotte Alexandra, in particular, is a joy to watch. She brings a poignant authenticity to her character, giving life to Alice's inexperience and her eagerness for experience.
A Real Young Girl is an interesting movie. Though there are occasions when Breillat does try too hard to disturb the viewer, she has still managed to relate a touching story.
Review by Keith Allen
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