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Wild Ride: Mohammed Khouas escorts tantalizing Vahina Giocante around town in 'Lila Says.'

Sex in the Souk

A blonde nymphet wreaks havoc in the Arab quarter in 'Lila Says'

By Richard von Busack

ZIAD DOUEIRI'S Lila Says, an unimpressive follow-up to West Beirut, is based on a popular erotic novel published in 1996. The film version is neither especially revealing of an Arab tenement neighborhood, nor does it provide much insight into one girl's character. Right away, the Polish immigrant girl Lila (Vahina Giocante) shows how forward she is. Shortly after meeting a kid from a fatherless home, Chimo (Mohammed Khouas), Lila asks him if he would care to see her chat. Chimo is sexually backward. It takes him a lot longer to say yes than most 19-year-old males would take.

A provocative friendship begins. Lila drives Chimo crazy with stories about her wild love life, reminiscing about her days in America, bonking farm lads in the hayloft. She provokes his jealousy, flaunting her desire to break into amateur porn, but only if Chimo is the cameraman, and only if he agrees to get both her face and her chat in the picture.

In the meantime, Chimo's three buddies (less differentiated than the Three Stooges, yet every bit as gauche) are kept in a state of hypocritical horny outrage by Lila. The girl careens around the town on her Moped in a short skirt that barely covers her chat. Even Lila's obese, half-sane aunt wants to gaze at Lila's chat. ("So blonde, it could be a lantern to the blind!" she declares, taking in a view the camera selfishly denies us.)

Lila decides to stir things up by telling the aunt that Satan showed up at the apartment asking her for oral sex. This gross lie brings out the priests, inflames the neighborhood and sets the stage for a sad day of reckoning.

The model for Lila's underage sex goddess with a body she uses as a weapon would be Brigitte Bardot in ... And God Created Woman, just as the scene where Lila runs down a list of her charms is like BB's opening monologue in Godard's Contempt. Giocante (who played a similar role in the similarly underwhelming 1997 film Marie Baie des Anges) hardly has Bardot's gaze, as blank and pitiless as the sun. Instead she shows something more like the wondering uncertainty of Emma Thompson—Lila's troubled quality further tips off an ending that many viewers may have guessed already.

Chimo's literary use of Lila's crisis to advance himself is a happy ending that's rather unhappy. The depthlessness of the finale mirrors Chimo's easy advice to his mother, that what she needs is makeup and a new haircut to cheer herself up. It works here, though there are a lot of tragedies that a makeover won't fix. In the movie's favor is a lyrical love scene on the back of a Moped. Just when you're certain there are no new positions, someone comes up with one. Still, summed up in two words, Lila Says is a male fantasy; what Lila says sounds like words a man put in her mouth.

Lila Says (Unrated; 89 min.), directed and written by Ziad Doueiri, photographed by John Daly and starring Vahina Giocante and Mohammed Khouas, opens Friday.

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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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