Identities 2017: First Girl I Loved

First Girl I Loved
USA 2016
Written by Kerem Sanga
Directed by Kerem Sanga
Watched on 09.06.2017

“First Girl I Loved” is a wonderful, beautiful, sensitive and touching coming-of-age drama about first love. It does a great job capturing what puberty feels like: The insecurity, the inexperience when dealing with such big emotions, but also the kick of really being in love for the first time. It also does a good job depicting that even in our – more liberal – time, it’s just a mite harder to propose your love to someone from your own gender. It’s told in an extremely emotive fashion, is very well acted, and beautifully shot. However, as nice as it was overall, for me it was one very specific scene that stood out, and which made it special.

——————————————– SPOILERS BELOW ——————————————–

See, here’s the deal: A huge part of our society still has this singular image of rape being something that happens in a dark alley, by a stranger with a ski mask, at knife- or gunpoint, and including brutal violence. And of course, that also happens – far too often, in fact. But we as a society seem to refuse to acknowledge the fact that more often than not, rape happens in “our own” four walls. And it’s not a stranger, but someone we know, someone we like, maybe even someone we love. Just like it happens here: After telling her long time (platonic, male) best friend that she’s fallen in love with someone else, he gets extremely jealous, and ultimately forces himself onto her. It’s a scene that made me extremely uncomfortable and was very painful to watch, and I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like for someone who had to go through a very similar experience. But I really think that this is one of the most important scenes that I’ve seen in a contemporary movie recently. There still is that terrible notion in some parts of society that “when she didn’t struggle, she secretly wanted it”. “First Girl I Loved” clearly shows that this is not true. Multiple times, she says no, and urges him to stop. He’s not her type – hell, he’s not even her gender, for fuck’s sake. But she’s also completely in shock, and totally overwhelmed by this situation. She just can’t fathom what’s going on here, and that her best friend would do something like that to her. Ultimately, she feels helpless, and simply doesn’t know what to do. And the movie – thanks to Dylan Gelula’s fantastic performance, and Kerem Sanga’s sensitive direction – captures this perfectly.

Some may criticize that after this horrible act, Clifton is allowed a small amount of redemption, by finally admitting to someone else, and at the same time, also to himself, what he did. Also, at the end, he stands firmly at her side. Personally, that’s another aspect of the movie that I loved. It doesn’t demonize him. He “just” committed a horrible act – thus once again reinforcing this idea that a rapist isn’t necessarily some sort of depraved monster, but that it could be pretty much anyone. Now, obviously, everything that he does afterwards – at least in my book – can never compensate for what he did before, but he’s not a one-dimensional, psychotic monster. Personally, I found this level of ambivalence extremely refreshing – and also important.

Without said scene – and the fallout from it – “First Girl I Loved” would “only” be a nice, sweet, touching and true-to-life coming of age-drama. However that moment made it special for me, since it deals with a difficult and hot topic in a very sensitive way. Thus, if you can stomach this particular scene, I think that “First Girl I Loved” should be very well worth your while.


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