36 Fillette

36 Fillette (1988) movie poster

(1988) dir. Catherine Breillat
viewed: 03/28/08

Though this film was familiar to me from its name and its poster, I had never seen a Catherine Breillat film before.  I recall first queueing her films when I’d read a review of Fat Girl (2001) though I’d never gotten around to seeing any of her films.  Her films, based on descriptions, deal largely with feminine sexuality, specifically the sexuality of young women.  36 Fillete deals with a 14-year old French girl (in the contemporary of 1988) on holiday with her family, trying to lose her virginity.

Oddly enough, there are quite a few films about males looking to lose their viriginity, but maybe less so for females.  Though, oddly, the beautiful Delphine Zentout, who plays the far more than precocious Lili, resonates with a number of other actresses, but most frequently (for me) Jennifer Jason Leigh, who did her own role as the young girl coming of age in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). One of the major differences, however, is that Zentout performed this role at the actual age of 14, in mostly full nudity, something that the United States would not condone nor necessarily be comfortable with.

That is one of the interesting things about Breillat’s film.  It features what would now be typically portrayed as utterly “evil” pedophilia by her would-be “seducer”, the middle-aged computer importer.  But this film is shot largely from her perspective, not without his portrayed, but without completely condemning nor condoning him.  Perhaps it’s simply a less stratifying issue in France, where sexuality is more accepted than in the United States.  Don’t worry, I’m not assuming nor asserting.  It’s strange.  It’s part of the film’s strangeness.

The film has a terrible transfer to DVD.  Not only is it not letterboxed, but the print has clear deficincies, taking away perhaps from its aesthetics.  It’s also muddled and dark in places, too.  It feels low-budget especially at times.

Being filmed in 1988, when I can still claim to have been a teenager myself, there is still the part of me that identifies with Lili, the headstrong, contentious, angry, and individualistic girl who wants to assert her sexuality and identity while still being far too young to understand herself or what’s at stake.  I have known people like her, when I was younger, and really see this story as one of identification above others.

Beyond that, these days, I am probably more close in age to her parents or her seducer.  My kids are not yet anywhere near Lili’s age, but still, it makes me take more than just a single perspective on this film.

Also, it reminds me of when I first saw Lasse Hallström’s My Life as a Dog (1985), his wonderful film of childhood strangeness, in which there is a prepubescent girl who is shown naked in a very moving, vivid sequence which in the United States would be considered child pornography.  Not only does 36 Fillette show another, rather developed underage girl, which has a power of its own, the verity of the body, but it is far less charged.  No such film could be made here, right or wrong.  It just couldn’t.

I don’t ultimately know how I feel about this film on the whole.  It certainly had its viscerality and discomfort and challenge.  It also had its identification and distances.

I would say that I am interested enough to see others of her films.  Ultimatley, it made it onto my priority queue because of my “number theme” or “number series”, which I appreciated before having even watched because of the variety it offered.

I don’t know.  I think that there are some people I know who could appreciate this, though probably not everyone, definitely not the average “American”.

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