Regardless of what clique you were involved in through adolescence, if any, it doesn't really matter. It's still an awkward and uncomfortable time in life that's filled with confusion, as we try to figure out who we are and where we fit into this crazy world. Most teenagers aren't very fond of school, but they always look forward to summer vacation. Often times, many of us would get bored from time to time. These numerous extra hours of free time that we would have on our hands would either get us into trouble or result in a lot of video games. In writer/director Eliza Hittman's full-length feature debut, it's about revisiting this time in life and remembering the curiosities, awkwardness, and humiliation that we experienced over the years. This is precisely why most of us are glad to never have to experience this moment in life again, but Hittman uses this opportunity to capture our attention in this moviegoing experience that is told through more audiovisual elements than it is through a direct narrative.
It's summer and there isn't very much for young Lila (Gina Piersanti) to do other than spend time with her friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco). However, she spends most of her time being the third wheel, as the two teenagers can't get their hands off of each other, regardless of who is around. The more Lila is exposed to the sexual exploits of her more experienced friend, she becomes obsessed with having sexual encounters of her own. At the beach, she sets her sights on an older man named Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), who she begins to have an obsession with. Lila ultimately puts herself in a dangerously vulnerable situation as she tries to get the opportunity to explore her sexuality for the first time.
As stated in my introduction, It Felt Like Love is told primarily through its visuals rather than through dialogue and situations. For example, the opening scene shows Lila on the beach with a face covered in sunscreen. She looks out into the ocean waters, as the waves crash in front of her. This is meant to display the chaotic thoughts and emotions that continue to crash within her mind. It doesn't take very long to see that Lila doesn't know who she is, and is incredibly inexperienced in many aspects of her life. It Felt Like Love leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation when it comes to Lila's character. She doesn't speak very much, so we're left to attempt to interpret a lot of it. I'm always glad to see a filmmaker trust the audience to understand what's going on without spoon-feeding information to us. My personal interpretation as to the reason behind her odd behavior is neglect. Her father is emotionally absent and her friend is more interested in spending her time making out with her boyfriend than listening to her friend. Lila is constantly screaming for attention in the only way she knows how to. She constantly fights hard to fit in, regardless of how many times she fails. This is a tragic coming-of-age story with an intriguing subject in the middle of it all.
There is a fascinating concept at the heart of this motion picture that had me captivated. The idea of teenaged romance is always heavily romanticized, when a lot of it is largely infatuation. It Felt Like Love portrays a female lead, as she rebels against what the stereotypical desire would be for somebody at her age. She doesn't show very much interest in having a boyfriend, as she claims that simply sleeping with a man that she likes is better than having somebody to label as a boyfriend. Her clear goal is to gain more experiences, not to fall in love. However, the more that Sammy continues to reject her, the more she wants him. It's heartbreaking to see what she's willing to say and do in order to get his attention. Even once this begins to evolve into an even greater infatuation, this most certainly never feels like love, as its title implies. Rather, this is a young girl who is willing to do anything necessary to get attention, to have experiences, and to find out who she really is. There are a lot of unconventional themes here that work incredibly well.
It Felt Like Love isn't even released, yet I can already hear the primary complaint that people will have. Since this isn't a clear narrative, a lot of people will find the pacing to be slow. Not only that, but we're only receiving a glimpse into a short time of this teenager's life. We aren't truly getting to know her as a human being, as I believe that director Eliza Hittman simply wants us to believe that this could be any regular teenage girl that could live in the house next door to you. There aren't many special elements pointed out about this character, which makes the overall themes and messages even stronger. This is a relatively short motion picture, as it's under ninety minutes, but it really does demand your attention. It doesn't truly feel complete, but I don't think that it was meant to. Once again, this is a glimpse inside of Lila's life. We are guests, not long-term residents.
Writer/director Eliza Hittman has taken on an unknown cast, which aids in making the situations feel more real. Chances are you won't recognize any of the actors in this feature. Gina Piersanti is quite impressive in the lead role of Lila. With the help of Hittman, this is an incredibly inspired performance that gets a lot of emotion across without the use of very much dialogue. Most of the acting is through facial expressions and body language, and she accurately portrays this quiet girl who has a whirlwind of emotions going on within herself. Ronen Rubinstein is believable as Sammy, even when he starts to go a bit off the deep end Giovanna Salimeni is very convincing as Lila's friend, Chiara. The acting feels very raw and natural. None of it feels forced, which is impressive for actors of such young ages.
When it comes to the visual elements, Hittman truly shows what she can do. It Felt Like Love's style oozes with symbolism and emotion. Even when there isn't a word being spoken, there's a lot going on in the picture. We see the world as Lila is seeing it. This is expressed through elements, such as the lighting and the sound design. The cinematography is quite good, as well. Hittman makes a lot of use out of close-ups, as we're constantly incredibly close to Lila through everything that happens. My only gripe with the visual style is that it could have been a more powerful statement if they were used more sparingly. All of the music is diegetic, meaning that it takes place within the world of the narrative. Whenever Lila attends a party, there is always overly-sexualized rap music playing, which seems to fuel the group in their sexual endeavors.
You won't get any comfort when watching It Felt Like Love. Most coming-of-age motion pictures are sentimental and have a positive goal that aids them in discovering themselves. However, writer/director Eliza Hittman provides a much more tragic and raw coming-of-age story that pursues poetic storytelling more than it does a clear narrative. This film won't be for everybody, and it isn't supposed to have you smiling at any point. This is an awkward, uncomfortable, yet necessary piece of filmmaking. Hittman has utilized unconventional themes and techniques, which are only supported by her outstanding use of visuals. It Felt Like Love is a piece of convincing storytelling that makes you both think and feel much more than your typical coming-of-age film. Recommended.