American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Loss of innocence is surely one of the fabled "seven stories" that get told over and over again, and with good reason: everyone goes through it and can relate. Eliza Hittman's debut feature, "It Felt Like Love", is an unsettling female-centered take on the experience. Gina Piersanti plays Lila, a virginal Brooklyn teenager who spends a lot of time in the company of her best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), who has some experience but carries herself as if she's had a lot.
Lila is simultaneously fascinated and terrified by the prospect of having sex for the first time. As it happens, Chiara knows a boy who'll have sex with anyone, or maybe anything: Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), a college student who's a little bit more sensitive than a lot of the sinewy dudebros he runs with, but only a little bit. There's not too much plot beyond this simple goal, and while it takes Lila a while to achieve it, journey, destination, etc.
The journey isn't pretty. Hittman and her cinematographer Sean Porter shoot probably four-fifths of the movie in a very shallow plane of focus. This blurs most of the frame and directs our attention to the heroine's crisply outlined face or skinny body, to the back of her head as she observes Chiara's flirtations and hookups, or to the preening of Sammy and his testosterone-addled pals, including Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), Chiara's boyfriend. This visual technique will thrill some viewers and irritate others, but it's effective at conveying the self-centeredness and myopia of the teenage point-of-view. This movie is about Lila, but it's also about the adolescent's belief that everything is about them.
There are behavioral details details that any ex-teenager will recognize as true, especially the tendency to lie about sexual experience, to seem more or less innocent depending on which partner you want to hook up with. Lila claims to have had sex many times before, and laughably states a desire to act in porn films, which she describes as a good way to earn a living.