When you are young, summer is supposed to be a fun, laid back time where there are no classes to get up for and no homework to complete, but it can also teeter on boring with long days that can drag when there is little to do. Lila (Gina Piersanti), who we meet staring out at the expanse of the ocean, is spending the summer at the beach with her friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), and Chiara’s boyfriend Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), making Lila the de facto third wheel. At first it seems like Lila does not mind and prefers to simply observe her friend, never giving the impression she is jealous when she is often left sitting on the beach alone while Chiara and Patrick play in the surf. But that all changes when Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) walks by and her focus shifts.
Not a complete narrative, It Felt Like Love is more of a quick glimpse into Lila’s life at this moment, during this particular summer, all colored by her thoughts and feelings at the time. Lila comes across as slightly reserved, almost shy, but when she speaks she is commanding and usually says something you would not expect. Wanting to be more experienced than she actually is, and thinking she needs to give off that impression to get the attention of the older Sammy, Lila starts paraphrasing things Chiara has told her or embellishes the limited experiences she has had.
Sammy is a bit older, but he also lives a life that is a far cry from Lila’s slightly more innocent world. Without a mother figure, and Chiara constantly talking to her about sex, Lila thinks it is time for her to get caught up to her peers, but Sammy may not be interested in helping her do so. Lila’s attempts to kick start her sexual awakening are bold, but also misguided with Sammy never seeming to return her affections, but he also never sending her away.
It is painful to watch Lila try and insert herself into Sammy’s life, hoping a relationship between the two will naturally take shape (as it seems to with Chiara and her boyfriends), but it is also one of those necessary processes you must go through as a part of growing up. Director Eliza Hittman paints a stark, but honest, picture of a group of slightly lost kids trying to grow up (although some possibly too fast) and find their places in the world. While the story is centered on real emotions, the almost documentary style caused it to drag in parts, lingering on moments when moving the story forward would have made the film click along at a more engaging pace.
Hittman’s penchant for close ups worked in some moments, but would have served the film better if they were used sparingly to highlight key scenes rather than become an overall stylistic choice. But it is fresh faced Piersanti brings a palpable innocence and curiosity to Lila that is both endearing and concerning, taking you right back to that moment of adolescence, and reminding you why you only want to go through it once.
The Upside: Compelling performances from a slightly unknown cast; sparse use of score, but an appropriate amount of hip-hop and popular music that would naturally surround these kid’s worlds; select shots that showcase beautiful cinematography.
The Downside: The story takes a while to pick up momentum and while the cast seems easily able to embody their characters, outside of Piersanti, it may be due more to the fact that they are still that age more than their acting abilities at this point in their careers.
On the Side: It Felt Like Love is Hittman’s first feature film, but her short film, Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight, premiered at Sundance back in 2011 (and proves Hittman is found of naming her films after popular song lyrics.)