Directed by: Eliza Hittman.
Written by: Eliza Hittman.
Starring: Gina Piersanti (Lila), Giovanna Salimeni (Chiara), Ronen Rubinstein (Sammy), Jesse Cordasco (Patrick), Nick Rosen (Devon), Richie Folio (Justin), Case Prime (Nate), Kevin Anthony Ryan (Lila's Father).
It Felt Like Love is a movie that made me cringe – and I mean that as a compliment. It is a film about a teenage girl who wants to be as sexually experience as her best friend, even though she doesn’t seem to realize that all that experience hasn’t made her friend all that happy. She sets her sights on an older boy and wants to have sex with him. He seems like trouble immediately to the audience, but to her, the desire is too strong to ignore. Nothing that happens next is quite what we expect.
Writer-director Eliza Hittman’s movie strives for realism – and mainly achieves it. This is not a movie where the teenagers are whip smart, and make a lot of quips and jokes. Instead, they are insecure, damaged and speak pretty much like real teenagers do. The film is shot in a documentary style – the framing is always slightly off center, but often quite beautiful. The film never gives the main character a speech where she explains everything. Rather it sits back and observes her, as her feelings gradually come clear.
Played by Gina Piersanti, Lila is an insecure girl of around 15. Her mother has recently died, and her father isn’t handling it well. Over the course of a summer, she hangs out with her best friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) – who will turn 16 this summer – and her new boyfriend. They are having sex already, and Chiara tells Lila all about it – and Lila plays along as if she’s more experienced than she really is. Chiara’s boyfriend is an insecure teenage boy – upset that she has more experience than she is – which is something that may derail their relationship. Lila doesn’t seem to get this – she just wants some experience herself. She meets Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) – he’s older, in college and works at a convenience store. She starts hanging around, and he does nothing to stop her. He knows she is interested, but mainly puts her off. However, when he is around his asshole friends, he can be an asshole as well. Lila puts herself in increasingly awkward, and dangerous situations, to get what she wants – although she isn’t quite sure what that is.
The film stays on Lila throughout the entire film, and gradually reveals her world – both internal and external. What`s fascinating about the movie is that it could probably be about Chiara or Sammy, and being wholly different, yet equally good movies. All of these young people are dealing with difficult things in their lives – and they handle them in a way that makes sense for teenagers. They screw up, but they keep going.
The film uses limited dialogue to tell its story. To some, I know, it will seem like not much happens in the movie. It uses body language more than spoken language – and often the way things are said is much more important than what is said. It is a film that requires to audience to pay attention to get to the buried emotions at the core of its story.
The film is a remarkably assured feature debut for Eliza Hittman as writer and director – who has a real eye for her neo-realist style, and an ear for realistic dialogue. It is not an easy film, and perhaps lets Lila off the hook a little too easily in the end, but it announces Hittman as a filmmaker to watch.