(Think that you can't rent movies at Netflix that contain legitimately explicit sexuality? Think again, my frustrated friend! In this special essay series, I look at a total of thirty mainstream films made over the last forty years, all of which contain scenes of such actual graphic sex acts as fellatio and penetration, reviewing them not in only in terms of the movie's quality itself but also the amount of sex it portrays, and whether this sex is any fun or not to actually watch. For more about how these movies were chosen, as well as the full list of all thirty titles, you can click here; and don't forget, these reviews are also mixed into the master list of all movies reviewed here, over at CCLaP's main movie page.)
The story in a nutshell: The 1976 debut of controversial French writer/director Catherine Breillat (who actually has two other sexually explicit films eventually being reviewed as part of this essay series as well, 1999's Romance and 2004's Anatomy of Hell), this is essentially a look at the sexual awakening of one very strange 14-year-old girl, the kind who grow up to become, say, controversial directors of sexually explicit French movies. Already becoming more and more aware of her body at the boarding school she attends, this hyper-awareness becomes a subject of fixation when returning to her parents' sleepy provincial home that summer, which when combined with her flooding hormones leads to the kinds of bizarre self-love sessions mostly only seen in confused teenagers; this then mixes with the usual passive-aggressive, overly dramatic nature of most 14-year-olds in general, leading our hero Alice to become obsessed with how far she can push the adult men around her into sexual attraction, even as she is slightly disgusted when any of them attempt to actually act on the heavy flirtation she is always engaging in. Add a good-looking bad boy who works at her father's sawmill, giving Alice a focal point for this blurry lust coursing through her veins, and you have at the end one of the most realistic looks at female sexual awakening ever filmed, or at least so say the movie's fans.
What I thought: Squeamish and brilliant, just like teenaged girls in general. In fact, I have to say that I quite agree with what critic Brian Rice had to say about this film, that it's a perfect example of Linda Williams' definition of "literary pornography," a "philosophical pornography of the imagination" instead of the "crass materialism of a dominant mass culture." Because the fact is that in surface-level filmmaking terms, this movie's actually kind of a mess -- a mish-mash of mainstream eroticism and prurient fantasies involving mud, sh-t, being covered in insects and more, with a script that sort of just rambles along without ever making a big point, featuring a main character who is by equal turns intriguing and repulsive; but when you stop and think about it, you realize that this is exactly the way most 14-year-old girls actually are, or at least the kinds of 14-year-olds who grow up to become Catherine Breillat. Made at the tail end of the countercultural era, this seems in fact to be Breillat's main point, that sexuality is a complicated, messy, sometimes ugly thing; and that young women especially, when first developing a taste for the taboo, have a hard time separating their attraction for it from the disgust they also feel, leading exactly to the kinds of distasteful yet compelling fantasies so notoriously seen here.
What makes it an explicit movie? Not much from just a technical standpoint -- simply a lot of female nudity, including many close-ups of genitalia, and a proclivity among the main character to stick every appropriately-sized random object she can find inside herself at one point or another. Oh yeah, and one tiny little glance at a flaccid penis, during a scene when a flasher confronts Alice on an amusement-park ride.
Is the sex actually fun to watch? Well, this gets again into the whole idea of what exactly this movie's trying to be in the first place; because as a piece of traditional erotica, it's not any fun at all, with Breillant first setting up these visually titillating scenes and then throwing in elements like the main character covering herself with earthworms, or sticking feathers in her ass and walking around on all-fours clucking like a chicken. (And let me make it clear that these are dream sequences I'm talking about, although of course filmed with actual people actually doing these things.) If however you look at this as an honest and daring look at how most women sort of ease themselves slowly into mature adult sexualities, after first going through a whole series of strange experiments just to see what they're like (and because they barely understand the adult hormones suddenly being pumped throughout their system), then A Real Young Girl is freaking brilliant, and the sex scenes a nostalgic, guilty delight. It's this schism that's made the movie so revered in the decades since, but only by a certain crowd, and why it is that Breillant's been able to go on to the kind of darker, more mature films that are her real trademark.
Strangest piece of trivia: Although made in 1976, this did not play in most theatres until the year 2000.
Worth your time? Yes