Just from the title of Rebecca Zlotowski’s An Easy Girl, its easy to jump to a judgemental conclusion about the films storyline and at first glance it does seem like a film about the conflicting interpretations of femininity and sexuality and how easy it is for a woman to be seen as something she isn’t in a society so quick to vilify overt sexuality and praise the buttoned up and viriginal. An Easy Girl is a discussion of all of this, a story of conflicting mentalities, different ways of living and how to show femininity in a world waiting to chastise you if you show too much. However by the end, Zlotowski says more about the importance of purpose, direction and meaning absent of gender politics, instead driving the point home that it really matters more who you are, whether or not you are content and if you are happy, then how you present yourself.
Set across one blistering summer in Cannes in the south of France as 16-year-old Naïma (Mina Farid) has graduated from school and is looking towards her future. Best friend Dodo (Lakdhar Dridi) wants her to follow him into acting but when her free-spirited cousin Sofia (Zahia Dehar) arrives for the summer she is swept up into an entirely different world and lifestyle when she is introduced to Andres (Nuno Lopes) and his business partner Phillipe (Benoît Magimel), making her question where she wants to end up. While Sofia shows her a new world, one of opulence and excitement, it also harbours a dark side, one that makes her wonder if she even belongs in Sofia’s world either.
Despite the luxurious visuals of Cannes as a backdrop, Naïma lives on the outside looking in. Her mother is a maid at a fancy hotel and is trying to get her an internship there. Clearly more comfortable hiding away in the kitchens or in the hallways frequented by the staff, after just a few days with Sofia she is sat down eating with everyone she has known for years watching. When Sofia opens this world up for her it is hard not to be enamoured by how ‘successful’ she seems. Naïma’s naive view of Sofia’s choices is mirrored in how Zlotowski shifts her lens from one of elegance and romance to one fixated on the sordid, the dark recesses of the rich and powerful.
This might be An Easy Girl’s best con, making you believe that Sofia is content with her lifestyle. The notion that she doesn’t have to work, she is able to just exist is compelling but when the rug is pulled and you realise the freedom she feels, or thinks she does is just an illusion, her lifestyle is the job, a social contract that fixes her in place, offering liberty but not really. Zlotowski strips her of any control while at the same time romanticising her choices through Naïma’s eyes. So despite the stunning surroundings, scintillating conversation and so called female empowerment, there is an underlying sadness that permeates almost every moment Sofia is on screen. Even something simple like relaxing on a balcony after a long night of adventure, the question of who Sofia is outside of who people want her to be looms large for not only you but her as well.
It is a quiet but compelling performance by Dehar that brings everything together as she oftentimes plays two sides to Sofia at the same time. Both the lost young adult and the self-assured woman, seeking happiness and control over her life in what is perhaps the wrong way, that decision is up to you. Much like Naïma who seeks emancipation from her mother and to some extent Dodo, Sofia is only after true liberty but in a world and film consumed by beauty and sexuality, Zlotowski wants to delve into inner beauty despite a film crafted to both admonish and praise what is skin deep. The irony in An Easy Girl is that the quiet presences, be it Naïma or Phillipe, the ones who are under the thumb of those around them, content to serve are the ones experiencing real freedom, a sort of freedom of self that An Easy Girl finds truly breathtaking. Forced to play second place in somebody else’s story, Sofia isn’t the most important person in this world, no matter how hard she tries to make it that way.
While overtly sexual and full of double standards designed to force audiences to reexamine their own prejudices, Zlotowski boils her story down to a simple but terrific coming of age story, one where the the goal is real happiness, not the kind of excitement and frivolity brought by money and power. Thanks to an inquisitive camera that follows but never invades a story that is content to take its time, letting Sofia and Naïma’s story sink in under the gorgeous French sun, An Easy Girl says more by not saying much of anything at all. Despite a rich performance by Farid, this is Dehar’s show and thanks to a strong performance, this story which could easily been misconstrued as condescending or insulting is smart, sad and sultry all in one.
Although some conflicting story points feel unnecessary and the ending is too neat for a story content to make a mess, this is a vibrantly colourful picture that fights against the notion of sexuality’s importance, instead playing to a liberating experience, a true tale of self-discovery and in that regard it’s a huge success and one I recommend streaming on Netflix whenever you get the chance