Titillating, shameless, that’s what ‘Lila Says’

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 28, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There’s very little about “Lila Says” that isn’t utterly shameless. Maybe the worst thing about it is the way it hints at social-issue depths beneath its titillating surface.

Titillating: Dopey scenario about an Arab teenager in Marseilles, France, who writes a story (or experiences it for real) about a sexually frank blond who enters his life. She’s played by Vahina Giocante, a French sex kitten if ever there was one. (In French, with English subtitles.)

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, language.

Now showing: Varsity.

But as far as I can see, this movie is mostly titillating surface. We’re in Marseilles, France, or a slummy suburb of Marseilles, where a teenage Arab boy named Chimo (played by Mohammed Khouas) is working on a writing project.

He and his mother live in abject poverty, but Chimo has been singled out by a teacher for his writing talent. If he can complete a full-length story, he stands a good chance of getting into an elite academic program in Paris.

So the film we watch is the story he writes … I think. Perhaps it also really happened to him. It certainly has the ring of a sexy daydream a teenage guy would think up.

Chimo is entranced by a newcomer to the neighborhood, a girl whose white skin and blond hair make her a figure of desire and contempt among his friends. She’s Lila, a taunting vixen who immediately singles out Chimo for attention.

Her opening gambit with Chimo is to expose herself to him, a tactic that leaves him more puzzled than turned on. Her subsequent conversations are laced with sexual come-ons, although for some reason she and Chimo never quite settle down to the act itself.

While this is going on, Chimo is trying to keep his cred with his gang by not admitting he knows Lila. They’re getting suspicious, however, and they don’t much appreciate his fancy ideas about writing in a notebook or going away to Paris.

Glancing references to Palestine and Sept. 11 attempt to give “Lila Says” a more global feel, but Lebanese-born director Ziad Doueiri fails to convince. He seems more captivated by the possibilities of staging a make-out scene between Chimo and Lila on a speeding moped – which is indeed hot, if not believable.

The dopey scenario is enhanced by the presence of Vahina Giocante, who plays Lila. Giocante made a smashing debut in “Marie Baie Des Anges” a few years ago, and she’s clearly the latest incarnation of a long line of French sex kittens. Doueiri’s camera treats her exactly that way, with adoring close-ups that turn her into a fantasy object just right for a notebook entry by a sexually frustrated teen.

Vahina Giocante stars in “Lila Says.”

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