Dir: Christophe Blanc. France. 2003. 91mins.

This insider study of a mixed-up adolescent girl identifies so utterly with its main character that it risks appearing as stroppy and directionless as she is. But in the end there is something mesmeric about the camera's obsession with the face of first-time, pulled-off-the-street actress Mercedes Cecchetto, who appears in pretty much every frame, and who has the extraordinary knack of being able to sulk with her upper as well as her lower lip. Not as bleak as the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta, which explored similar territory, Big Girl still has some of that films' stubborn refusal to edit its protagonist's unhappiness. The film should attract some critical buzz for debut director Blanc when it is finally released (a distributor is still being negotiated); overseas it will be a harder sell. The film screened in the Panorama sidebar at Berlin.

Sixteen-year-old Sabine is frustrated by her life in a dead-end provincial French town. Catering school gets her down, she cannot stand the attitude of the people she is being trained to serve and they are not too keen on her either. Her relationship with her parents is equally conflictual. The only thing she really enjoys is sex - something that slightly alarms the men she takes up with, even if they are louche, manipulative small-time criminals. Her skinhead squeeze even plays Sabine some Vivaldi on the car stereo to show her that there is more to life than humping.

Finally she heads off to Paris, where she slips into an oddly abusive relationship with the big city. She is full of energy and drive, yet it is constantly spiralling out of control. A self-destructive instinct, or a pessimism that she has inherited from her miserable father, causes her to sabotage her prospects at every turn: by stealing from friends, by trusting the wrong men, by getting bored too early.

An elliptical, discontinous script narrates this difficult coming of age story with sometimes excruciating slowness. Cecchetto is a natural, though she seems to be drawing much of the authenticity she brings to the role from her own experience, and may not turn out to have much range.

While audiences may find themselves occasionally bored and frustrated, what carries the film in the end is the director's slow, patient layering of the character and his demonstration that the soul of a taciturn, uneducated provincial adolescent who does not know what she wants can have as much intriguing complexity as that of a Parsian intellectual. Blanc is so careful not to push Sabine towards an easy resolution, or any resolution at all, that he leaves the finale hanging, delegating to the musical soundtrack the suggestion that possibly, after all the setbacks, she may turn out okay.

Prod co: Sunday Morning Productions
Int'l sales: Flach Pyramide International
Prod: Bertrand Gore
Scr: Christophe Blanc
Cinematography: Isabelle Razavet
Prod des: Francois Hauvezin
Ed: Agnes Bruckert
Music: Philippe Thiphaine
Main cast: Mercedes Cecchetto, Laura Locatelli, Sarah Zidhane, Jean-Yves Dubois, Nathalie Krebs, Richard Morgieve, Nadine Marcovici, Samir Guesmi