Sony // 2004 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Neal Solon (Retired) // January 12th, 2006
"Do you want to see my..."
-- The first words uttered on screen by Lila (Vahina Giocante)
Generally, when one sees a film that is sold on sex appeal, the sex in the film is either disappointing or gratuitous. The common mistake that these films make is skipping the psychological foreplay and assuming that bare skin, on its own, makes something sexy. Lila Says keeps the skin to a minimum, but still manages to be one of the most erotic, sexually charged films in recent memory. The film is great, however, because its reach goes beyond the realm of sex. For the filmmakers, appealing to the sexual beings in the audience is a means to an end.
In the late '90s, an anonymously published book called Lila dit ça caused quite a stir in France. To this day the identity of the author, who used the pseudonym Chimo, is unknown. The book told the sensational story of one of Chimo's summers as an Arab teenager living in the slums of Paris, specifically his exploits with Lila, the blonde, Christian provocateur who lived across the street. Lila Says retells this story on film, changing the setting to the slums of Marseille. We get to watch as Lila (Vahina Giocante, Renegade) puts Chimo (Mohammed Khouas) under her spell and opens his eyes to the world of sex.
Chimo isn't the only one to be taken in by Lila. The viewer is drawn in, too. Lila is stunning, and she talks frankly about her fantasies. That's not to say, however, that Lila Says is a typical "erotic" film. It is not. The scenes that usually define "erotic" films are the scenes to which a teenage boy, if left alone with the DVD and the remote, will fast-forward. Lila Says will disappoint teenage boys with short attention spans, because it really is about what Lila says, and not about what she does. The only real nudity in the film is an intentionally desexualized scene with a prostitute, which functions to make apparent the depth of Chimo's love for and obsession with Lila. We never see Lila disrobe, but we don't miss it. What matters is the way that Lila talks about her desires.
Of course, the effect that Lila's words have on the world around her also matters. The men of her neighborhood, including Chimo's friends, are obsessed. The women are repulsed. The religious are offended. Everyone, however, is blind to Lila's existence beyond that of a sexual being. It is this blindness that drives the supporting characters' actions; lustful, repellent, and condescending. Watching the film, the audience is no better. No one stops to imagine what the non-sexual facets of Lila's life must be, what else she does with her time, or what other talents she has. We just accept the picture of Lila that she projects through her stories and her actions as the unabridged truth, though intellectually we know there must be more.
It is this completely natural sleight of hand that renders us unprepared for the end of the film, when we discover that Lila has been hiding something. We quickly discover, as does Chimo, that our picture of her world is not as complete as we imagined. It is a discovery that is not easily forgotten.
Thanks to the artful eroticism of the film and the strength of the ending, the film lingers in one's mind. The DVD presentation also helps. The cinematography in Lila Says is used to great effect to help convey the mounting sexual tension between the central characters. The clean, anamorphic transfer helps preserve that as the director intended. A front-heavy surround track delivers the audio. It is effective for such a dialogue-driven film, even if it doesn't do much with music and atmospheric noise in the surrounds. The one real shortcoming on the disc is that the only "extras" included are trailers for other Sony-released films. I am hesitant to even list them, because they are hardly relevant.
There is one more thing that a potential buyer should know about this DVD. There is one scene that has been censored. At one point, Lila and Chimo are looking at a comic book that, apparently, features graphic sex. I say "apparently" because I can only infer from dialogue and blurred images.
I did not see this film in its very limited US theatrical release, so I don't know if this was a change affected before the theatrical release due to MPAA ratings concerns, or a recent change on the DVD due to concerns about content or copyright issues. Still, there is sad irony in the fact that a film about sexual expression, sexual exploration, and assumptions about sexual beings has been censored to remove sexual content.
Lila Says is not a film for the sexually repressed or uncomfortable. It is not a first date movie. But if you are comfortable listening to some frank sexual discussion, you will be rewarded by an atypical film depicting the sexual and social awakening of a young man at the hands of a beautiful young lady. Neither she nor the film is as one-dimensional as it first seems. Lila Says is highly recommended for anyone who loves film and doesn't mind a little erotic drama, too.
The case is dismissed! All parties involved are free to go -- all parties but Lila, that is. Lila, your presence is requested in the judge's chambers. Court is adjourned!
Review content copyright © 2006 Neal Solon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Sony Trailers