AS ITS enigmatic title suggests, the startlingly erotic and surprisingly moving "Lila Says" is all conversation and no (or at least very little) action. But, wow, what conversation.
Most of it tumbles out of the mouth of the title character (Vahina Giocante), a pretty, young Frenchwoman who embarks upon a heavy-duty -- and heavy on the sex talk -- flirtation with a handsome, 19-year-old aspiring writer named Chimo (Mohammed Khouas), whose sensitive, introspective narration leads us through the story. That she's a blond European and he's a dark-skinned Muslim, and that the film acknowledges the heightened taboo of their relationship in a post-9/11 world, gives the film a little political frisson, but not its main one.
"If I had to choose between [sex] and a free Palestine," Chimo says, "I'd choose [sex]."
The nature of Lila and Chimo's interaction kicks quickly into high gear, beginning with her flashing her crotch at him while on a playground swing, segueing quickly to a bit of below-the-belt sleight of hand, and then stalling, if that's even the right word, in a kind of X-rated verbal limbo.
In any other movie, Lila would be called a tease. In fact, she's called one here, along with a lot of other choice, though ultimately inaccurate, insults, by Chimo's boorish buddies (Karim Ben Haddou, Hamid Dkhissi and Lotfi Chakri). As Chimo and Lila start spending more time with each other -- time mostly spent talking about her purported sexual fantasies, sexual history, sex life and what she'd do to Chimo if she'd ever stop talking and start acting -- Lila begins to sound (and, quite frankly, to look) a lot like the tramp she's imagined to be by anyone who overhears her 1-800-DO-ME-NOW chatter.
Ah, but appearances can be so deceiving.
Through it all, Chimo remains the perfect gentleman, listening patiently (albeit with what might be politely called bated breath) to Lila, with whom he seems to be falling not just in lust, but truly, madly, deeply in love. Most important, despite a moment or two when he almost loses it, nearly giving in to the temptation that would drive a lesser man insane, he manages to stay Lila's steadfast if chaste champion, defending her honor against the attacks of his friends, Lila's aunt and his own mother.
All but one attack, that is, which comes near the film's end and precipitates Chino's discovery of a twist that I, for one, didn't see coming.
At this point, there arises a hint of a disturbingly sexist subtext to "Lila," in the way that the film suggests that, despite its lip service to female sexual liberation, Lila might actually be unclean for having "done it." Of course, Chimo, bless his soul, doesn't ever even remotely believe this, making "Lila Says," when all is said and done, as sweet as it is dirty.
LILA SAYS (Unrated, 89 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, sex talk, sexuality, partial nudity and some violence. In French with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.