It Felt Like Love: Sundance Review

It Felt Like Love

U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman)

On the outskirts of Brooklyn, a 14-year-old girl’s sexual quest takes a dangerous turn when she pursues an older guy and tests the boundaries between obsession and love. Cast: Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubinstein, Jesse Cordasco, Nick Rosen, Case Prime.

A convincing tale of a too-early coming of age gets strong performances from a cast of newcomers.

Eliza Hittman's feature debut follows a young girl wading recklessly into her first sexual experiences.

PARK CITY — A teenage girl desperate to keep up with her promiscuous best friend gets in over her head in Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love, an assured feature debut set in unfashionable corners of Brooklyn. Sadly believable and benefiting from an unshowy performance by first-timer Gina Piersanti, it will have many viewers eager to see what Hittman does next.

Piersanti plays Lila, a plain-faced and inexperienced teen accustomed to tagging along with overtly sexual best friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), who has been around enough to scare even hormonal boyfriend Patrick (Jesse Cordasco). Lila sees her chance to close the experience gap between them when she hears Chiara talk about how thuggish Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) will sleep with anyone; she begins throwing herself at him, eventually putting herself in situations that may lead to her doing a lot more than she intends to.

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Piersanti and Hittman jointly hit exactly the right notes in depicting an innocent kid's transparent attempts to seem worldly. Lila reuses Chiara's comments verbatim, bragging to the next-door neighbor about last night's fictional adventures -- her lies more pathetic since the boy next door is years younger. Hittman's script draws the kind of borderline encounters -- being "asleep" in the same bed where your best friend is fondling a boy; sitting on the sofa while the guy you like starts to watch porn with his friends -- that erode innocence but hardly leave one wiser.

Piersanti maintains her calm throughout, hiding all of Lila's apprehension behind an almost-bored gaze. But the character is as foolhardy as she is poker-faced, and throws herself into a couple of situations that will strike fear into any viewer who lived through high school. Hittman prefers ambiguity to an explicit depiction of these dangerous encounters, though, and It Felt Like Love is a more affecting movie for her restraint.

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Production Companies: Bay Bridge Productions, Infinitum Productions

Cast: Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubinstein, Jesse Cordasco, Nicolas Rosen, Richie Folio, Kevin Anthony Ryan, Case Prime

Director-Screenwriter: Eliza Hittman

Producers: Shrihari Sathe, Laura Wagner

Executive producers: Tyler Brodie, Hunter Gray, Gill Holland

Director of photography: Sean Porter

Production designer: James Boxer

Costume designer: Sarah Maiorino

Editors: Scott Cummings, Carlos Marques-Marcet

Sales: Ryan Kampe, Visit Films

No rating, 82 minutes