Content Note: sexualized abuse
Lila (Gina Piersanti) is spending her summer with her best friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) and Chiara’s boyfriend Patrick (Nyck Caution). While Chiara has already dated a lot and talks openly about sex, Lila hasn’t gone as far. But being the perpetual third wheel isn’t very fun either, and there is a certain pressure for Lila to find a boyfriend of her own. When she hears about Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), who is older and supposedly sleeps with everyone, she decides to pursue him.
It Felt Like Love is a quiet film that takes an unflinching look at the humiliation and degradations that so often are a part of growing up, especially when a young girl tries to take charge of her own sexuality. It’s uncomfortable – and that’s the point.
Hittman’s approach to the film – one that is also present in the film she has made since this debut, Beach Rats and Never Rarely Sometimes Always – is almost like a documentary filmmaker (which also demands a lot of her young actors, but nothing they can’t handle). There is no space here for fanciful imaginings or the kind of exaggerations that we have come to expect from films.
That means that this is not the uplifting story of a young girl finding her own footing through her first sexual experiences. Instead it is the much more realistic and very sobering look at what happens to girls who are forward. When they’re a little better at it, or maybe just “lucky”, – like Chiara – it means that they will constantly be pressured to give even more, and their experiences will be the reason both to date them and to reject them. When they’re clumsy, or maybe just unlucky, – like Lila – they will be ridiculed, humiliated and abused.
Hittman has a keen eye for the dynamics between the characters, and there are a few observations here that feel like a punch in the gut. The way Lila’s own father (Kevin Anthony Ryan) disparages her and slaps her butt in what doesn’t feel like a sexual way – at first. But shortly after, the slapping is echoed in another scene that is definitely sexualized and even more uncomfortable. It draws a clear line from (literally) patriarchal power to sexualized violence.
It’s the moments like this that really made the film for me. Yes, it is a little uneven here and there , but it is a really strong debut. Even if you should steel yourself before you watch it.
Summarizing: really good.