It's the '60s and Alice Bonnard (Charlotte Alexandra) comes home to spend the summer with her bitterly repressed mother (Rita Maiden) and incessantly horny father (Bruno Balp) in the Landes region of France. Alice is going through a decidedly torturous period of adolescent angst, self-disgust and discovery. Her father runs a failing sawmill and has hired a beautiful but unmotivated young man, Jim (Hiram Keller). Alice becomes obsessed by him, and everything really starts to heat up.

Cathrine Breillat, famed for her film Romance, which was another graphic exploration of human sexuality, made A Real Young Girl in 1975. It was never released, due to disputes with her producer and the hardcore nature of its content, which deemed showings inadvisable during recent, more politically correct and censorious times. The work's recent release in France only restarted a national moral outcry and serious debate, which also greeted Romance. The movie is certainly an unsettling experience, with Breillat practically rubbing our noses in young Alice's addictive self degradation. She is forever disrobing, playing with herself, imagining the most verboten fantasies, and smearing every imaginable bodily fluid whenever and wherever she can. Some may find this somehow spiritually cathartic and enlightening; others, merely deeply disgusting. What cannot be denied is the film's complete air of enervation. It plods along, from one dull scene of mundane "ordinary" life to the next, sparked only by Alice's repeated, increasingly outrageous acts. If Breillat's intention was to capture teenaged anomie, she has certainly done so, and for all time.

Alexandra seems not so much actress here as victim of her director's all-too-serious intentions. Maiden and Balp are given only one-note parental conceptions to play. The only relief from all the human mire are the scenes with the faun faced Keller, who was a Warhol protg and iconic male beauty of the period, famed for Fellini's Satyricon. He is shot in lyrical soft focus, perspiring prettily in skintight jeans, in a way that prefigures Calvin Klein ads and the general male narcissism which has become the norm in this new millennium. Typically, even when Alexandra achieves her sexual goal with him, the experience is merely "un grand zero." Another bizarre bit of casting features the late character actress Shirley Stoler (of The Honeymoon Killers and Seven Beauties) as the most Brooklynese of French vendeuses.

--David Noh