October 25, 2001

Cornell Cinema: The Girl

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Since my expectations for The Girl — a film that has been touted as the “sexiest lesbian movie of the year” — were high, I was disappointed; unfortunately, the love story plays second fiddle to a lagging plot that desperately tries to be a modern film. The film’s greatest moments aren’t the hot sex scenes, but those scenes where the artistry of the director can be appreciated.

Set in Paris, the film begs for subtitles and foreign-film complexity. It boasts its homage to Breathless in the superfluous cigarettes and the jolting jazz soundtrack. The Girl is narrated by a painter, simply called loveur, whose emotions are as distant from the subject matter as the narrator’s in Camus’ The Stranger. Established quickly are the protagonists’ roles: the object of obsession, the girl, is a singer who serenades the painter in the nightclub and makes love to her after hours. Theirs is a relationship based on physical attraction, uncomplicated except for the girl’s possessive boyfriend-on-the-side. This triangle spells trouble and leads to a typically shocking noir ending.

The girl is portrayed by a French version of Jennifer Tilly. At one point, her lover even jests, “‘Who cares?’ and ‘Why not?’ are her favorite expressions.” Her effervescent sexiness does make her irresistable, but her attitude, one that we might expect from a blonde in a 1950’s Hollywood film, seems out of place in a modern film. The narrator, the lover, has few lines of dialogue (instead, most of what she says is an internal monologue) and resists devlopment of her personality throughout the film. The concept of a modern noir film is difficult to pull off, and considering that the director does this well is an accomplishment; but unlike more succesful noirs, this one lacks a valid sense of violence lurking in the background. The lack of a struggle between the couples’ passionate love and the violent jealousy of the girl’s sometime boyfriend makes the noir aspect of the film a bit blurry.

The slow pace and auteur nature of the film allow the film to evolve into something other than just a simple love story. The Girl makes no attempt to be a commercial film with subplots, character arcs, or supporting characters — instead, this film focuses on these two women and the gradual development of their relationship. The lover is an artist whose frustration with her painting is mirrored by her frustration with the girl. One has to respect some of the risks the director, Sande Zeig, takes in creating a film that is clearly her unadulterated vision. It is, therefore, at the moments when the story begins to lag that the director pulls out a bag of tricks. Among these tricks are beautiful shots that should deserve black and white film stock and of course the gorgeous mise-en-scene of Paris and a seedy nighclub.

If the film has the combination of a steamy lesbian relationship and a film noir sensibility, how could it go wrong? Mainly, the film ultimately fails to be original. The minimal acting done by the two women combined with a skeleton of a plot are conspicious examples of what must have been a tight budget. There are few nuances in the story that shed new light on a lesbian relationship or on any love triangle. It lacks the excitement of