Venial Sin … Mortal Sin …

An 11-year-old girl's sexual awakening via a 50-year-old man is detailed in the same casual tone as more girlish pursuits in "Venial Sin ... Mortal Sin ..., " Pomme Meffre's partly autobiographical construct -- strung together from evocative bric-a-brac and nostalgic tableaux -- is from the love-it-or-hate-it memoirs school of filming mastered by Terence Davies, but told from a resolutely female p.o.v.

An 11-year-old girl’s sexual awakening via a 50-year-old man is detailed in the same casual tone as more girlish pursuits in “Venial Sin … Mortal Sin …, ” Pomme Meffre’s partly autobiographical construct — strung together from evocative bric-a-brac and nostalgic tableaux — is from the love-it-or-hate-it memoirs school of filming mastered by Terence Davies, but told from a resolutely female p.o.v.

Highly stylized portrait of post-World War II small-town life is the cumulative result of lovingly recreated details juxtaposed with literary but never stilted narration as a dapper gent who has happened upon the girl’s illustrated diary reads it cover to cover.

Helmer plunges into the past via colorized postcards and formal camera work, which examines objects and settings — with and without people — to build a sort of voyeuristic bond with the viewer. Actors go about their business to illustrate the diary’s revelations, but there is no synchronized dialogue.

From simple, pithy, often amusing observations, an indelible portrait emerges of one child’s curiosity, imagination and sexual awakening in a specific time and place.

Celine — portrayed only as a photo glued into the diary — recounts the delicious pleasure of being intimately caressed by the local hairdresser, whose wife recently died. She writes of how yummy it is to eat rabbit heads, of seeing her first black G.I., about attending confession after making out with a local boy, of her beloved grandmother and her perky aunt.

There is a healthy patina to Celine’s desire for additional sexual stimulation, which she describes in glowing terms between clandestine visits to the hairdresser. Camera lingers on the setting but never the act itself.

Pic is completely successful at examining the world through a child’s eyes, but despite brief running time, the relatively static stills-and-ambient-sounds presentation grows tiresome before film’s surprise conclusion.

Period production design is aces and musical passages are splendid. (Pic’s title comes from a sing-song kids’ tune about confession.)

Pic’s buoyant mood runs counter to conventional wisdom about sexual molestation of children. Helmer’s point — that sex for girls can be consensual and pleasurable at a very early age — is sure to spark lively debate wherever pic is shown.

Venial Sin ... Mortal Sin ...

(FRENCH)

Production: A Prods. Desmichelle Groupe TSF/Images & Trames/Test production, with participation of CNC. (International sales: CGR Intl., Paris.) Produced by Hugues Desmichelle. Directed, written by Pomme Meffre, from her novel.

Crew: Camera (color), Guy Chabanis; editor, Francoise Berger-Garnault; music, Jean-Pierre Stora, Georges Rabol; production design, Gisele Cavali; set decoration, Henri Meffre; costume design, Nicole Bize; sound, Pascal Ribier; associate producer, Aurele Giraud; assistant director, Francois Vantrou. Reviewed at French-American Film Workshop (competing), Avignon, France, June 24, 1994. (Also in Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 73 MIN.

With: With: Nini Crepon, Philippe Adrien, Isabelle Sadoyan, Brigitte Rouan, Anny Romand.

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