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Sony Picture Classics presents
"See? I have an angel's face. Everyone says so."
DVD ReviewChimo (Mohammed Khouas) is a 19-year-old Muslim living with his mother in a poor, cramped area outside of Marseilles, and we learn during a voiceover from him that his "life is made up of tiny, useless bits." He is tempted with an enticement from one of his teachers to attend a writing course in Paris, but money is of course an object, and he seems to feel hopelessly trapped in his dead-end neighborhood. The post-9/11 tensions have obviously run just as high in France as they have elsewhere (witness the recent Paris riots), and Chimo and his three thug pals waste their days doing nothing particularly productive. A turning point occurs when Lila (Vahina Giocante), a blonde 16 year old, moves into the largely Arabic community, causing an emotional domino effect of sexual urges to surface.
The first time we see Lila—through the viewfinder of Chimo's video camera—is just after the opening credits, as she is describing in lyrically poetic terms how others see her beauty. She ends her discourse with a startlingly frank question, asking Chimo if he would like to see a certain part of her anatomy. From that moment on director Ziad Doueiri paints the enigmatic Lila as a blend of Lolita-esque temptress and secure woman-child who is relaxed and comfortable with the power of her blossoming sexuality. Chimo and Lila, a modern-day variation of Romeo and Juliet, are drawn to one another as all opposites eventually attract, as both characters flirt and brood as their relationship slowly takes root.
Doueiri adapted the screenplay from the controversial book allegedly by the real-life Chimo, and chunks of the plot are driven in large part by the voiceover narration from his writings, read by Mohammed Khouas, describing the tumultuous effect the girl has had on Chimo's life. It's a natural mix of lust and love, played with a pleasant gentleness by Khouas, as Chimo is drawn into the sexual dynamo that is Giocante's Lila, who imbues the young girl with a uniquely grounded grasp on the power of sex as a lifeforce. Lila has so transfixed Chimo that even when he is out cruising for girls with his friends he envisions the blonde teenager on the hood of the car as they drive through town.
Lila Says is refreshingly frank and honest in its discussion of sexuality, but this isn't just a series of overwrought taboo monologues or artsy preachings, and Doueiri eventually assembles the pieces to deliver an unpredictably sweet romance that is equal parts unconventional, brutal, and gentle. It's an off-balance combination, but the performances by Khouas and Giocante are exceptional throughout, giving Doueiri's film a solid emotional center.
As a sidebar to the film itself, there is a scene that appears to have been intentionally altered. I'm a little perplexed as to why Sony felt compelled to digitally blur the sexually explicit images from a graphic novel that Lila and Chimo are reading, especially in a film whose entire infrastructure is built on raw sexuality. It's a very brief scene, but it does figure strongly thematically, and the blurring really minimizes the effect of the intended punch this moment should have had, and it smacks of pick-and-choose censorship. My optimistic side hopes it was a result of some copyright issue, and not outright content control.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Nice job from Sony on the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this one, with a steady palette of bright, crisp colors and well-defined edge detail. The print itself is very clean, with no trace of debris or specking, and no evidence of grain. A small flaw is some minor shimmer and edge enhancement, but it is on the moderate side, and hardly a major hindrance.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio option is a 5.0 French language track. Dialogue is simple and clean, with no distortion, and most of the sound is split across the front channels, with very little in the way of rear channel cues whatsoever. Ziad Doueiri employs a number of songs on the soundtrack during the course of the film, and the presentation lacks the proper depth and punch to really enhance the dramatic effect.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Baxter, Me And You And Everyone We Know, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, 2046, Heights, Yes, Saraband
Extras Review: The only extras are a set of assorted trailers, led by the promising Michael Showalter comedy The Baxter. The disc is cut into 12 chapters, with optional English subtitles.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsHere's a beautifully compelling and unconventional romance, full of forbidden relationships and frank sexuality all connected by the weak-kneed and numbing power of finding one's true love. Provocative, daring and surprisingly sentimental, Ziad Doueiri's film delivers strongly on all emotional cylinders.
One of the year's best. Highly recommended.
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