Hold the Moral Judgments About Transactional Sex — This Is a French Movie

August 24, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston
“Une Fille Facile” (it can be translated as “An Easy Girl” or “A Simple Girl”) opened on Netflix recently. A glamorous and self-assured 22-year old girl from the big city comes to visit her younger cousin who has just turned sixteen. Through the younger girl’s eyes, we see the cousin blatantly using her sexuality (she has already had breast implants). She uses sex to tease boys her own age, and with men twice her age to gain access to their world of wealth. A yacht, wealthy art collectors, Italian villas, expensive jewelry, sex.  The younger girl rejects her high school friends and tags along, fascinated at this new world that her cousin has brought her to. 

We know how this will end, or at least we know how it would end if it were an American movie. By summer’s end, the glamour will show its tarnish, Naïma, the younger girl will come to see her cousin Sofia’s life as empty, unfulfilling. The movie may inflict some punishment on Sofia. It might have her attempt suicide, or she might suffer ill treatment at the hands of the wealthy. Naïma will return to her simpler life and be grateful for it. (Surely there must be American movies that follow this template. I just can’t think of any.)

But this is a French film, and the film’s morality is not so simple, not so easy.

The trailer outlines the plot and sketches the settings.

On the last day of school, the day she turns sixteen, Naïma comes home to her modest apartment in Cannes to find her cousin Sofia just arrived from Paris.Sofia is six years older than Naïma, but much more worldly. Also more sexual. And she uses her sexuality.

Early in the film, in a club, Naïma and her high school friend Dodo watch as Sofia picks up a wealthy art dealer (Andrès) and his advisor (Philippe). Andrès invites them all back to his yacht. Dodo and Sofia get into a small argument, and Dodo turns to leave the yacht. “Come on, let’s go,” he says to Naïma. She looks torn, but decides to stay. That is the turning point. She leaves her simple world and, with the film taking her point of view, she follows Sofia into the world of the Riviera wealthy.

Sofia is not interested in love, she tells Naïma, only sensation and adventure. She has a tattoo on her lower back — “Carpe Diem” written in fancy script. That first evening on the yacht, she has sex with Andrès (Naïma — the movie is from her POV — opens a door for a moment and sees them. Sofia coolly returns her gaze, seemingly indifferent to what Andrès is doing.) The next day, she takes Naïma to a jewelry stylish boutique and tells Naïma to select something. There’s a watch that costs 1500€. “Is that the most expensive?” Sofia asks the boutique owner.  “No, we have this one at 3500€.” It’s too small, says Naïma. “That doesn’t matter,” says Sofia, “take the most expensive.” She tells the boutique owner to charge it to Andrès’s account.

What’s notable, and perhaps notably French, about the film is its refusal to condemn Sofia. Despite her calculated use of sex and her materialism, she has integrity. She is self-aware, and she is smart. The wealthy who try to put her down wind up looking foolish or worse. They are condescending to Sofia, indifferent or cruel to the workers who serve them, and dishonest. When Andrès wants to get rid of the girls, he falsely accuses them of stealing a valuable antique sextant which he himself has hidden.

Their adventure ends. Summer ends. Sofia goes back to Paris. Naïma will go back to her normal life, her friends, her internship in the kitchen of a fancy hotel. She will keep a fond memory of Sofia, with no regrets, just as she will keep the Chanel handbag Sofia has given her and the Carpe Diem tramp stamp that she has gotten for herself.

It’s hard to imagine an American version of this film. A girl who trades on her sexuality purely for her own amusement might be the object of our fascination, just as Sofia is for Naïma and for the audience. But the American version would take a more critical view of such a Jezebel.

* The actress who plays Sofia, Zahia Dehar, was in fact a prostitute, starting at age 16, mostly for the wealthy (they could afford her  €1,000 - €2,000 fees). There was a scandal when it was revealed that several soccer players had paid for her services when she was under 18, the minimum age for legal prostitution in France. She has leveraged this notoriety into a line of lingerie, a career in modeling, and now film.

And jazz fans, in case you were wondering, Coltrane’s classic recording of his composition “Naïma” does make a brief appearance.


Anonymous said...

"The New Romantic" is a recent, similar American movie, in which a college student takes up as a wealthy professor's "sugar baby." While I appreciated that the movie didn't condemn its heroine, the other items from your list all came to pass: the glamour of her new lifestyle wore off as she realized that it was unfulfilling and lacking in emotional connection with her "sugar daddy" partner; she eventually suffered ill treatment at his hands, and was happy at the end to return to her simpler life. Predictable American morality arc complete.

Jay Livingston said...

I'm not at all familiar with the film, but thanks for letting me know about it. It's nice to have confirmation of my impressions about movie tropes.