Teenage Bilitis (Patti D'Arbanville) sits in her bedroom remembering the events of the summer just past. At the start of the season, she was rehearsing for her role in her boarding school's play, but not getting on too well with her lines. Her schoolfriends manage to tear her away from her studies, and they go cycling to the nearby lake where some of them strip off and go swimming. Bilitis is in no mood for games, however, and stops one of her friends joining the others while she complains about, amongst other things, how she never wants to kiss a boy. Little did she know that first love is just around the corner, but it will not end as happily as she would like...
If you ever wonder what the fuss about seventies cult icon Patti D'Arbanville was, then some of the kerfuffle might have been down to this film, an arty drama that uses its story to depict young women in various states of undress. She had already left her teens behind and was in her mid-twenties by the time Bilitis was made, and if you're unsure of the lead character's name the other characters take every opportunity to remind you of it, but she had made her mark on the world, first as an Andy Warhol acolyte, and later as the subject of the celebrated Cat Stevens song.
A song that is a better tribute to D'Arbanville than this, a tediously tasteful coming of age tale with lesbianism thrown on for good measure. It's all shot by photographer turned director David Hamilton (not to be confused with the British DJ, of course) in soft focus and with golden sunlight playing over everyone, so it's no shock that this also formed the basis for one of his coffee table books as well. With a preoccupation with teenage girls that verges on the creepy, the film might have titlllated if the snail's pacing and desperately weak storyline hadn't intervened.
Not to mention the characters have all the depth of the average sexual fantasy, only less engaging. The film was adapted by Robert Boussinot, Jaques Nahum and Catherine Breillat (who would be better known for controversial, sexually-themed films later in her career) from the novel by Pierre Louÿs, but such a literary heritage doesn't make the film seem any classier. D'Arbanville alternately pouts and simpers in a manner that is nothing less than irritating, and everyone else is steadily drained of charisma as the movie listlessly drags on.
Bilitis is sent to spend the summer holidays with a young married couple, Melissa (Mona Kristensen, wife of Hamilton in real life) and Pierre (Gilles Kohler), who behaves so aggressively towards her that Bilitis wants to find Melissa another man while he is holidaying in Monte Carlo. However, her feelings towards her new guardian stretch to falling in love with her, and things are complicated by her feelings for local photographer Lucas (Bernard Giraudeau) who has taken a shine to her. If you can concentrate without drifting off into boredom you may be interested to observe that the way Melissa and Lucas join at the end could be a substitute for either of them joining with Bilitis, but really, perhaps you could get away with taking this stuff seriously in the seventies, watching it now you just think, "Oi, Hamilton! You dirty old man!" Treacly music by Francis Lai.