Two films based on women’s memoirs of their teenage years offer rich, nuanced accounts of sexuality, selfhood and what it means to be grown-up
12/30/2015 8:05:04 PM
|written By : Trisha Gupta|
Among the things that made Masaan’s opening sequence so memorable was Richa Chadda’s striking depiction of a young woman yearning to begin her sexual life. We watch her hungry eyes as she watches a porn video, and then see her stride purposefully towards the sexual rendezvous that will change her life. Devi has shrugged off the cloak of morality that makes female sexuality a burden, and yet her youthful eagerness comes without coyness or giggles.
The frankness of Devi’s sexual exploration made Masaan most unusual, especially in the Indian context. But even Masaan focused less on that process of exploration and more on its wider social ramifications. And Devi is a fully grown young woman. What would be truly remarkable would be to see the world through the eyes of a young girl (and not in the thoroughly exploitative manner of Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd).
Marielle Heller’s directorial debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl does exactly that, though in San Francisco, circa 1976. Based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, Heller’s film casts the marvelous Bel Powley as Minnie Goetz, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who embarks on an affair with Monroe, a 35-year-old man who also happens to be her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard).
Given the undeniable controversiality of this plot, the film is remarkable for the freedom it gives Minnie. Heller has been very clear, in interviews, that her interest in Gloeckner’s book (she has earlier adapted and performed it as a play) arose from the fact that there are so few honest representations of young female desire. “The media has endlessly told teenage girls that boys are the only ones who are going to want sex. Girls are going to be the ones that don’t want it. Girls are going to want to withhold it until they decide that they are willing to give it to the guy,” Heller has said. “What if you’re a teenage girl who wants to have sex?”