Hindi: chhoti haziri, vulg. hazri, 'little breakfast'; refreshment taken in the early morning, before or after the morning exercise. (Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, 1994 )
films based on women's memoirs of their teenage years offer rich,
nuanced accounts of sexuality, selfhood and what it means to be
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.
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).
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
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?
might be 15 and a virgin when TheDiary begins,
but it is very clear that Minnie's wanting is at the very centre of
this narrative. And what makes the film so powerful is her joyous,
unabashed sense of discovery – as well as her unaffected confession
of her changing feelings. She might be dreamy-eyed to start with, and
confused in the middle, but she is also the one with the sharpest
view of things as they unfurl.
Diary of a Teenage Girl makes
for an interesting companion piece to An
Education (2009), another
exploration of a relationship between a teenaged girl and a
middle-aged man, also based on a real-life autobiographical account
(journalist Lynn Barber's bestselling memoir) and directed by a
woman: the Danish director Lone Scherfig.
Mellor, the 16-year-old at the centre of An
couldn't be more different from Minnie Goetz, at least on the
surface. Minnie retains her child-like teariness and her shapeless
dungarees, showing no external signs of her sexual awakening (even
provoking her mother into suggesting that she might take a greater
interest in boys). Jenny's
(Carey Mulligan) encounter with the charming David (Peter Sarsgaard),
in contrast, soon results in a visible shift to adulthood: she starts
to put her hair up and dress in fashionably grown-up clothes, and
warns David against baby talk when they have sex for the first time:
“Treat me like I'm a grown-up”. In fact Jenny's hunger is really
for adulthood itself, rather than sex per se. It is her desire for
beautiful things -- classical music concerts, glamorous restaurants
and trips to Paris – that draws her to David, and simultaneously
allows her to cast a cool, appraising eye at the dullness and poverty
of the adult lives she sees around her: her poor, boring,
money-grubbing parents, her closed-minded headmistress, even her
fiercely hopeful English teacher.
doesn't do well at school, but she knows she is artistically
talented. Jenny is the provincial girl with high culture
aspirations—her grades might be perfect, but her sense of self is
much more halting.
much of the difference in the two narratives is also caused by the
difference of social settings: in 1961 Britain, a middle class girl's
confession of crisis is met by cups of tea and stern, solid advice;
in 1976 San Francisco, it can devolve swiftly into a whirlwind of
parties, sex and drugs.
in both films, the parents who discover an ongoing relationship
between a teenage daughter and a much older man think of marriage as
the next step. The difference is that in An Education, Jenny takes it
seriously as an option, quick to exchange her dream of an Oxford
education for the marital short-cut. In The Diary, set
only fifteen years later, Kristen Wiig's angry proposal that Monroe
marry Minnie elicits only disdain from the teenager (while the
35-year-old seems relieved, even happy, at this possible resolution).
both films share, in fact, is a portrayal of adulthood as a layered,
complex state in which people can continue to be both vulnerable and
confused. Whether it is the surface sophistication of a David, which
hides a hollow interior, or Monroe's drug-induced confession of
neediness, or whether it is the profound gullibility of the parental
figures in both films, it is the adults in either film who remain
strangely infantile – and Minnie and Jenny who grow up.