Right before I watched An Easy Girl, I happened to be listening to the late Anthony Bourdain on Terry Gross. He read a snippet from his most recent memoir, describing how restaurant workers often see the worst of people—when they are drunk and misbehaving, rude and oblivious. I thought of Bourdain’s words during a scene that came about halfway through An Easy Girl, when the teenage protagonist, Naïma (Mina Farid), finds herself at a dinner party at a fancy restaurant; she’s the much-younger guest of her wealthy host, who is presiding over a group of drunken and rowdy guests. They are the last people in the restaurant and the servers and chefs are standing nearby, bored and irritated. They want to go home. Naïma glances at them in sympathy, because her mother works at this very hotel as a cleaner. And yet she’s enjoying the party, and this glimpse into the life of the very rich.
Naïma’s entree into this decadent world is her older cousin, Sofia, who flaunts her sexuality in see-through dresses and provocative come-ons. Played by Zahia Dehar, Sofia looks a bit like Jessica Rabbit, with reddish blonde hair, pouty lips, long lashes, and an outrageously curvy figure. Dehar is a somewhat unexpected casting choice; she’s a lingerie model who was involved in a high-profile prostitution scandal as a teenager and then rehabilitated by fashion magazines. An Easy Girl is Dehar’s first leading role, and she plays Sofia with disarming sweetness and a hint of sadness. She tells Naïma that she doesn’t care to date or fall in love. She only wants sensation and experience; to her, that is freedom. There is a lot of discussion of freedom in An Easy Girl, and what it means to different people. It’s a very French movie in that way, and also in its non-judgmental attitude toward Sofia’s promiscuity.
Naïma is only sixteen, and still trying to figure out what freedom means to her. Unlike Sofia, who lives off of men, Naïma is looking for a vocation. She’s been offered a culinary internship at the hotel where her mother works, but she’s putting it off for the summer to enjoy her vacation, a situation her mother begrudgingly accepts. At the beginning of the movie, we see Naïma with friends her own age, and the summer holidays seems like an innocent combination of swimming, clubbing, and sleeping in. But then, Sofia arrives and changes everything. She flirts with older men and soon, Sofia and Naïma are invited onto a yacht by two middle-aged men, Andres and Philippe. They are ambiguously rich, but it quickly becomes clear that Andres is the boss and Philippe the assistant. Andres flirtatiously refers to the girls as “the cousins” but it’s obvious that Sofia is the one he’s interested in, and accepts Naïma as a kind of chaperone. When Sofia disappears into the bedroom with Andres, Naïma is left with Philippe, who treats her with respect and almost familial affection. An unexpected bond forms between the two of them as they sit on the sidelines, observing Sofia and Andres’s antics.
Set in Cannes, An Easy Girl is in part, a portrait of a resort town and the class differences between the residents who work in the service industry and the tourists who visit. Although Naïma lives in an apartment with a gorgeous view of the sea, she confesses to Philippe that she has never been on a boat ride before. And on the yacht itself, there’s a tension between her and the yacht’s staff, who clearly regard her and Sofia as a nuisance—a mess they’ll eventually clean up. Naïma observes these dynamics with a mix of innocence and confidence. She knows she’s there only by chance, and is happy to revel, temporarily, in the glamour of her cousin, the yacht, and the fine food and drink. I loved the way this movie dramatizes her emotional journey as she navigates this transitional summer of youth; it’s something more subtle than coming of age or even finding an identity, it’s more about the formation of her values, a refinement of her understand of how the world works. I think we’ve all had these in-between times that we look back on with fondness in retrospect, realizing that they were more formative than we realized at the time.