A Real Young Girl

French provocateur Catherine Breillat's first film — based on her novel, The Air Duct — is a disturbing study of a teenager coming to terms with her blossoming sexuality. Breillat and her producer, who apparently envisioned a soft-core picture in the David Hamilton mode, disagreed vigorously almost from the start about the tone it was to take....read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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French provocateur Catherine Breillat's first film — based on her novel, The Air Duct — is a disturbing study of a teenager coming to terms with her blossoming sexuality. Breillat and her producer, who apparently envisioned a soft-core picture in the David Hamilton mode, disagreed vigorously almost from the start about the tone it was to take. The film was almost abandoned, unfinished, and when it was completed it received an X rating from the French censor. It wasn't theatrically released in France until 2000, though it was shown occasionally at festivals. Sullen, 17-year-old Alice Bonnard (Charlotte Alexandra) reluctantly returns home from school for summer vacation. Her grades are slipping — though she intercepts and alters her report card so her parents (Bruno Balp, Rita Maiden) won't know — and is preoccupied with sex, which she both desires and fears. Alice's parents own a small sawmill and live in a rundown farmhouse; her mother is shrill and critical, afraid Alice will become pregnant and drop out before taking her baccalaureate exams, while her father is more indulgent. In addition to their inevitable mixed emotions at seeing their little girl mature, they're baffled by the entire younger generation: Alice's parents came of age during WWII, with all its attendant privations, while Alice and her peers are children of the privileged '60s. Alice, meanwhile, is trapped in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions: Simultaneously self-conscious and exhibitionistic, she's convinced that people in town are staring at her and responds by bicycling bare-bottomed down country lanes. She flaunts her breasts but confesses to her diary that she can hardly bear to look at her body in the mirror, and fantasizes about one of her father's employees, Jim (Hiram Keller), alternately imagining scenes of giddy romance and sexual humiliation. Alice taunts her parents, behaving seductively towards her father (who's secretly having an affair with a much younger woman) and provoking her mother, who responds by calling her a whore. Inevitably, the summer ends badly. Like Breillat's later movies (notably 1999's ROMANCE), this early effort features a discomfiting mix of uncomfortably explicit sexual imagery and earnest philosophizing; it's as maddeningly self-centered and gloomily pretentious as Alice herself. But it's also savagely perceptive, and defiantly free of the clichés that define adolescent girls' sexuality in movies: Neither cheerfully naughty nor suffused with gauzy prurience, it evokes a time of turbulent (and often ugly) emotions with disquieting intensity.

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  • Released: 1975
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: French provocateur Catherine Breillat's first film — based on her novel, The Air Duct — is a disturbing study of a teenager coming to terms with her blossoming sexuality. Breillat and her producer, who apparently envisioned a soft-core picture in… (more)

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