Thursday, August 23, 2018

Nea (Nelly Kaplan, 1976)

Nelly Kaplan’s Nea embodies some of the classic ambiguities of female-desire-centric cinema, as seen (at least insofar as the director comes first among competing inputs and influences) from a female perspective. The film (also known as A Young Emmanuelle and variations thereon) conforms to many aspects of the manipulative template: it undresses its women much more than its men, at intervals that seem (without having checked) pretty evenly spaced out so as to avoid fidgeting, focusing on particular on the sexuality of a precocious (and also frequently naked, in a way that encourages near-clinical examination) 16-year-old protagonist, Sybille. But it generally feels like an authentic attempt to excavate the girl’s perspective, frequently placing her in the position of observer (putting on her big glasses for emphasis) – the other main perspective is that of her cat, which seems broadly complementary. The plot itself emphasizes her as principal actor – she works up her fantasies into an anonymously-published book which becomes a best seller, but when her publisher Axel (Sami Frey, cool as ever) resists taking their relationship further, she decides to deploy the perception of her innocence as a weapon against him. The rape fantasy that ends up becoming true is another often-questionable device which here gets somewhat repurposed; ultimately, the (rather abrupt) ending certainly reflects Sybille’s desires and actions more than those of Axel (with the side benefit along the way of facilitating her mother’s sexual awakening also). None of this compares with Kaplan’s La fiancée du pirate, which is much more zestily provocative on its own terms, and more broadly resonant as a social critique (its knockabout rustic setting seems more productive than Nea’s standard-issue country mansion, notwithstanding at times that the interiors, especially Nea’s lair, carry an alluring fairy-tale-like quality), but the scepter of the earlier film is useful in focusing on Nea’s real, if inherently debatable strengths.

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