As anyone who has taken an introductory-level film theory class can tell you, the camera is not just an object. It is an organism (most commonly referred to as the eye) responsive to the impulses and instincts of the person who wields it. The majority of current cinema reflects a male gaze, and the emphasis on diversifying talent sadly does not seem to be taking strides – a new report released this week shows that female filmmakers lost ground in 2016.
But outside the mainstream, there are some voices and visions who need to be amplified. One such talent is writer/director Eliza Hittman, whose feature debut “It Felt Like Love” only recently came to my attention as I did research on filmmakers presenting their newest films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s a shame that this film got buried because Hittman’s work, my choice for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is nothing less than transporting. She picks us up from wherever we are and puts us in the perspective of a teenage girl, Gina Piersanti’s Lila, as she tepidly steps into her role as a sexual being.
The roughly 8o minutes of the film are devoted more to Lila’s feelings than they are to any one thing that happens to her. Hittman masters conveying a female gaze, the way girls process the pleasures and pains of looking at an object and feeling rapt with emotion. There’s a special attention to the tactility of puppy love, a need to touch constantly as a display of infatuation. Lila’s tongue lacks the language that bodies trade in so fluently, and she frequently trips trying to express herself. But as she tries to impress her female friends and woo her male peers, we don’t need those words to tell the story of her anguish and confusion. We see the world through her eyes and eventually come to share in the emotions with her.