On the shelf for 25 years, Catherine Breillat’s first feature is both very similar to and just as controversial as her recent work (Romance, À ma sur). Like À ma sur, Une vraie jeune fille examines young female sexuality with the kind of candour that’s guaranteed to raise hackles. Set in the 1960s, the story centres on the teenage Alice (Charlotte Alexandra), who returns home from boarding school to spend the summer break with her bitterly repressed mother (Rita Maiden) and incessantly horny father (Bruno Balp) in the Landes region of France. Alice is going through a decidedly torturous period of adolescent angst, self-disgust and discovery. Her father runs a failing sawmill and has hired the beautiful but unmotivated young Jim (Hiram Keller). Alice becomes obsessed by Jim, who proves frustratingly unresponsive. Her own tumescent sexuality begins to preoccupy her. She becomes fascinated with the excretions, juices and smells of her own body and begins to fantasise about her father’s sexuality, about riding naked on her bike around town, and about the young man.
Just as unsettling as Breillat’s recent work, Une vraie jeune fille offers another fascinating and probing take on female sexuality. The heightened realism of the Breillat’s style forces us to share in Alice’s addictive self-degradation, which makes for a decidedly unsettling experience. Charlotte Alexandra gives a bravely unselfconscious performance in the lead role (quite remarkable, considering the compromising positions the director puts her in), conveying both a schoolgirl’s innocence and an unflinchingly sensuality. France, 1975 [released in 2000]. English subtitles. Colour. 93 min.