Dir: Ziad Doueiri. Fr.2004. 89mins.
Watching Lila Saysis like putting a watercolour painting instead of a photograph on the frontpage of a newspaper. Just conceivably, there are circumstances where, indefiance of expectations, the broad brush-strokes could work instead of thecrisp snapshot. And, directed by a French Muslim Ziad Doueiri as an adaptationof successful novella, the film has an honest pedigree to it.
But the reality here isthat, having titillated, the film's lack of detail and depth may leaveaudiences feeling teased and ultimately let down. A lack of narrative punch orother must-see qualities may mean that breaking out of the festival ghetto istougher.
Lila Says plays in Sundance World Dramatic Competition laterthis month following its premiere at Toronto last year: sales so far includeUGC Films UK (UK), Samuel Goldwyn (US), LNK (Portugal) and Arthaus (Norway).
Set in the slum quarters ofan unnamed French city, the film's action focuses on an intelligent Arab youthChimo (Khouas) who becomes fascinated by a blonde French girl Lila (Giocante).
Slightly, tom-boyish, Lilasecretly exhibits herself to him and tells him a series of highly provocativetales about masturbation, gang-bangs and sex with the devil. The closer thepair become, the more he risks alienation from his layabout friends and hisover-worked mother.
Chimo's mates hit on the newgirl in the crudest possible fashion and predictably get nowhere. But Chimo isalso clueless about how to take his relationship with Lila to an emotionallydeeper or more physical level. Predictably, the film grinds its way to anunhappy conclusion.
Lila Says examines important themes such as breaking out ofone's self-imposed, social confines; the supposed awfulness of French suburbs;and crossing the religious divide between Muslim and Christian. But even thoughit may want to do more, the film remains firmly a mood piece.
There is none of thechest-bursting anger of La Haine, none of the visual power of City OfGod, the music of Ma CT Va Craquer, nor the story-telling logic ofDoueiri's own 1998 effort West Beirut. It does not even have the ugly,but ticket-selling sex appeal of Irreversible, Hole In My Heart or Pretty Baby.
Although the source material(published under the pseudonym, Chimo) barely exceeds 150 pages, the film'sshortcomings lie more with director-screenwriter Doueiri and the team behindhim. They have delivered a picture which is arguably under-developed andinappropriately-budgeted.
We are told that Chimo hasgreat prospects as a writer, but the evidence on offer suggests that Lila spinsthe better yarn. Despite the dirty words pouring from her mouth when she iswith Chimo, the script elsewhere gives the actors little chance do more thanplod through pages of unmemorable and largely functional dialogue.
Further development mighthave helped other jarring elements: It defies belief that 21st-centuryurban teenagers could be so inexperienced and unworldly. Indeed it is difficultto buy into the poverty. The clean, well-equipped suburbs on display here wouldbe the envy of many a third world slum-dweller. As it is, the token singlereference to the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York just emphasiseshow it all sits awkwardly between being newspaper urgent and poetically reflective.
Prod co: Huit Et Demi Productions, Pyramide Prods, Zeal,Passion Pictures
Int sales: Pyramide Int'l
Fr dist: Pyramide Dist
Exec prods: John Battsek,Fabienne Vonnier, Bernadette Carranza
Prod: Marina Gefter
Scr: Doueiri, Mark Lawrence,Joelle Touma from novel Lila Dit Ca by Chimo
Cine: John Daly
Ed: Tina Baz
Prod des: Yves Bernard
Mus: Nitin Sawheny
Main cast: Mohammed Khouas,Vahina Giocante, Karim Ben Haddou, Lofti Chakri