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Review: 'It Felt Like Love' a fine study of a girl's coming of age

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Rarely has the zone between girlhood and womanhood been captured with such urgent honesty than in Eliza Hittman's superb teen drama "It Felt Like Love." Hittman's debut isn't just a brilliantly tactile study of the mounting sexual curiosity and frustration of 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti); it's also an important landmark in the oft-ignored subgenre of realistic movies about female adolescence.

Lila doesn't want a boyfriend. She wants something better. When the working-class Brooklyn teen observes her slightly older but infinitely more sexually experienced friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) and her boyfriend Patrick (Jesse Cordasco) together, she craves their carefree sensuality and worldliness, but not the callous possessiveness he shows her.

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Lila isn't unattractive, but she has big, sad eyes made for longing. They alight upon the muscles of college student Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) at the beach, and Chiara's description — "he'll sleep with anyone" — makes him an ideal target for Lila's fervent desires.

Her pursuit of the possibly dangerous Sammy constitutes the thin plot of the film, which is really a snapshot of Lila's ear-ringingly insistent need to touch and be touched. Hittman's great achievement lies in externalizing Lila's internal state into the film's tense, hungry, yearning moods. The potential for sex teems all around, but nobody ever wants her. As Lila learns in a dark, sweaty basement, attention is a lot easier to come by than decency.

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"It Felt Like Love."

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

Playing: At Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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