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Lila Says

Adapted from a slim, contrived, anonymous 1996 novella that cased a minor scandal in France, Lila Says captures a summer-long flirtation between a French teen of Arab descent and a pale-skinned beauty whose short skirts and flirtatious manner cause a stir in her mostly Arab neighborhood. That's a solid foundation for a narrative, but like the book on which it's based, Lila Says opts instead for a house of cards populated by paper-thin characters. It's unlikely that any relationship that begins with the words, "Do you want to see my pussy?" will develop into a love story for the ages. At least it should find some other questions to ask.

Instead, Lila Says is one long tease, not just because it keeps promising sex it doesn't deliver. It teases at deeper themes and cultural commentary. It delivers stereotypes of virgins, whores, and barely human Arabs. (Director Ziad Doueiri was born in Lebanon, which doesn't make the latter go down any easier.) Mohammed Khouas plays the exception to the rule, an angelic aspiring writer who hangs out with thugs but dreams of more beautiful things. He finds one when he meets newcomer Vahina (ah, the quirks of language) Giocante, who plays the stirring nymphette. He stares at her dreamily and sings her praises in milky voiceover narration. She responds with lines like this (spoken from atop a moped): "When I sat down, I made sure my clit was right on the saddle!"

The stimulation stays on the screen, however, as the film drags on through one dull, albeit gorgeously shot, flirtation after another. Meanwhile, Khouas' friendship with Giocante upsets his friends until, inevitably, it all erupts into violence and a development that suggests what would happen if M. Night Shyamalan directed an episode of Red Shoe Diaries. The ending seems to have been thrown in only because a film needs some kind of an ending. Whether Lila Says needed a beginning... there's the real question.

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