Myriam Aziza’s first feature, screening this evening and tomorrow night as part of New Directors/New Films, concerns the intense infatuations of youth, and how the most innocent can so swiftly turn into a sickness. Juliette (an amazing Alba Gaia Bellugi) is only twelve, but the instant her hot new teacher Ms. Solenska (Belgian singer/actress Lio) enters the classroom, her world is gored. When the teacher lends the bright student a cherished copy of Pascal Laine’s The Lacemaker, Juliette can’t let it go, and pretends to mislay it. She finds a strand of Solenska’s hair in the book, and eats it. Soon, the girl is MapQuesting Solenska’s house, showing up uninvited, slutting it up in the mirror with lipstick and the titular dress, neglecting her studies, and in the haze of jealousy, inventing an affair between Solenska and a pretty, dim male student named Antoine (Léo Legrand).
The devastation Juliette’s unrequited love wreaks on her well-being is not pretty, and the exaggeration nimbly skirts comedy and horror simultaneously, like a reverse Lolita. “You degenerate pedophile!” she screams at Solenska. She has murderous nightmares and daydreams about herself in a grave.
Fact is, Solenska is very flirtatious with her students (“the handsome Antoine,” she calls her purported young beau). With her teasing manner and generous assets spilling out of her flimsy outfits, she half-knowingly enjoys almost crossing the line, possibly to fill some uncertain void. That she is far from beyond reproach is one of the many thoughtful, adroit turns in Aziza’s picture. Inflicting a cute kid with a fatal attraction sounds like a stunt offering exploitative fun, but while there are many tense, thriller-like buildups and payoffs, Aziza is more interested in the Rohmeresque moral intricacies of the situation. This separates it from something like Notes on a Scandal, in which gossip and psychological grotesqueness are paramount. With smooth, non-flashy craftsmanship, and the assistance of two fantastic lead performances, Aziza makes the scandalous quietly profound.