A mood poem to summer loving and sexual awakening, “It Felt Like Love” powerfully evokes a time when flesh is paramount, and peer behavior is the standard by which we judge our own.
That’s certainly true for Lila (Gina Piersanti), a coltish 14-year-old unaware of her beauty but intensely conscious of her body. Hanging out at the beach or at parties in her working-class Brooklyn neighborhood, she silently notes the casual intimacies of her slightly older friend (Giovanna Salimeni) and her boyfriend, as they unselfconsciously fondle and flirt.
Uncertainly mimicking their sexual assurance, and with no mother to guide her, Lila randomly fixates on Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), a weed-smoking, pornography-watching bad boy whose contempt for women is as potent as his pheromones.
Held together with few words and only the loosest of narratives, this insightful first feature from Eliza Hittman unspools mostly in sensual (but never salacious) close-ups and dreamy tracking shots. Using a soft light that makes skin tones sing, Sean Porter photographs the mainly young cast with an easy intimacy that highlights his director’s highly intuitive points.
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Collaborating seamlessly, the filmmakers remind us of the dangers of teenage desire and — especially when seasoned with the rap music Sammy enjoys — the vast gulf between male and female notions of romantic connection.
Stalking Lila’s smooth, swimsuit-clad back or clinging to her sunblock-smeared face — a metaphor reiterated in the mask she wears during a dance recital — “It Felt Like Love” seductively conjures a moment when trying on identities can be a fast track to self-knowledge. Or self-destruction.