The French nymph, poised on the precipice of womanhood, has long been an art-house cliché, and “An Easy Girl” knows it. Sensual and sly, this fourth feature from Rebecca Zlotowski — after “Planetarium” in 2017 — is both too clever and too subtle to pander to stereotype. So when we see Sofia (the stunning Zahia Dehar) frolic, bare-breasted, in a secluded cove in Cannes, her teasing of Georges Lechaptois’s camera tells us emphatically that she’s no ingénue.
That description better suits Sofia’s cousin, the 16-year-old Naïma (Mina Farid, a real find), whose point of view the film adopts and whose outlook on life is about to shift. School is out for summer, the marina is bustling and Naïma is preparing to intern as a chef at a nearby hotel when Sofia, six years older and infinitely more sophisticated, arrives unexpectedly from Paris. Dazzled and curious, Naïma notes that her cousin never carries cash and has no visible source of income, her designer purchases — and “Carpe Diem” tattoo — seemingly enabled by the credit cards of male admirers. Yet, she confides, she’s uninterested in love: All she seeks is adventure and sensation.
What that entails becomes clear when Sofia, wiggling along the waterfront one day, draws the attention of two wealthy, significantly older yachtsmen (Nuno Lopes and Benoît Magimel). For the next week or so, Naïma will ignore her friends to tag along with Sofia on the men’s glamorous jaunts, a mere onlooker to their alluring lifestyle. (The men are kind to her, but uninterested.) At night, spying on Sofia’s erotic exploits, she’s at once wary and eager: We can see her figuring things out.
Sultry, but never sleazy, observant yet nonjudgmental, “An Easy Girl” is more than just a tale of innocence and experience. Taking a nuanced look at sexual awakening and, to a lesser extent, class distinction, the movie has a charming flightiness that builds to an unexpectedly touching climax. That’s mainly due to a script (by Zlotowski and Teddy Lussi-Modeste) that reveals Sofia as more than the pouting stereotype suggested by the film’s provocative English title. (The French title, “Une Fille Facile,” also translates as “A Simple Girl.”)
The casting of Dehar — a Brigitte Bardot look-alike and the model at the center of a 2009 sex scandal involving France’s national soccer team — seems itself a provocative act. Yet she’s fabulous, giving Sofia the easy composure of a woman who has learned to weaponize her beauty. When a jealous hostess (Clotilde Courau) casually insults her with a cutting remark about plastic surgery, Sofia deflects the barb with a sweetness — and a flash of skin — that effortlessly turns the tables. It’s a brilliantly written scene, sharp and unshowy, and it reveals an intelligence that Sofia mostly keeps hidden. Her sex-kitten act is sagely performative: The kind of man she collects prefers her that way.
An Easy Girl
Not rated. In English, French and Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. Watch on Netflix.