Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 27, 2005 11:01 pm 
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Lila should have her mouth washed out with strong soap

Lila dit ça is the filming by Lebanese director Doueiri of a somewhat sensational popular French novel set in Marseille. The anonymous author, Chimo, is the main character. An Arab youth with writing talent, he keeps a journal of his encounters with a young blonde provocatrice newly arrived in the neighborhood. He submits the journal for a writing scholarship and it gets him out of the ghetto. The movie shows us what the journal describes: his teasing, frustrating relationship with the blonde cutie.

The idea makes sense, but the execution goes wrong. Doueiri's first film, West Beirut, which showed the youths of that war- torn, partitioned town struggling to grow up like kids anywhere else, was full of humor and charm. But Doueiri falters in this more structured adaptation set in France. From the first moments in Lila Says where the young Lolita teases nineteen-year-old Chimo by talking dirty, the scenes between the two principals are embarrassing and awkwardly paced. The photography is crude and poorly lit. Chimo's little gang of pals have zero appeal and are quite unworthy of both Chimo, who's as pretty as the girl and has far more class, or the director, whose Beirut characters seemed to have real backstories and depth. Vahine Giocante, who plays Lila, had a haunting debut as the fugitive girlfriend in Manuel Pradal's 1997 Marie Baie des Anges. The trouble is this time she can't just rely on her Lolita body and ballet training to move around provocatively; she has dialogue. But is it her delivery, or the crude dirty talk itself that doesn't work? In either case, although it may have succeeded on the page, it seems leaden on the screen.

While the sensitive-looking Chimo (Mohammed Khouas) restrains himself, his pals don't, and it all ends badly and foster child Lila is taken away by her off-color female caretaker. Too late it dawns on Chimo that he could have saved the situation if he'd simply declared his love -- and perceived that Lila's four-letter words and porno stories came out of naïve fantasy. He's failed her and betrayed their fledgling love affair, but he's got his ticket out of the Arab quarter and the bus takes him away.

The scenes are rickety. It's a shame because the two principals are nice to look at and some of the sets are colorful. But the shock value of a very pretty young blonde who's opener is "Do you want to see my pussy?" has attracted more attention than this effort deserves.

As is mentioned in one scene, Arabs are all the rage now in France, in movies anyway, witness Benoît Jacquot's stylish recent love-on-the run noir tale, À tout de suite. Doueiri ought to have been capable of much more than this stereotypical encounter. The worst part is that it's not even a turn-on.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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