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CANNES 2023 Un Certain Regard

Review: How to Have Sex


- CANNES 2023: Molly Manning Walker’s honest, sad, mascara-smudged film is bound to bring back some very uncomfortable memories

Review: How to Have Sex
Mia McKenna-Bruce in How to Have Sex

It’s so easy to forget how hard it really is, being a girl. Luckily, festival films keep on reminding us, bringing back long-buried memories of drinking way too many cheap shots and – shudder – White Parties. Especially if one happened to grow up during the 1990s.

Molly Manning Walker’s assured feature debut, How to Have Sex [+see also:
interview: Molly Manning Walker
film profile
, shown in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, really feels like a blast from the past. Suddenly, you are that teenager again, wearing uncomfortably tight clothes and awful make-up, and ignoring every single signal your body and mind try to send you. It sounds sad, but women are very, very good at doing that. They are also good at lying to themselves, because no one ever wants to be called a victim.

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How to Have Sex feels recognisable at times, that’s true, but it still works because it captures something else that feels very real: contrary to popular opinion, girls find it hard to open up sometimes. Sex, or your first time, is supposed to be “banging”, as is repeated here. If it’s not, the first reaction is usually as follows: “It’s not him; it’s me. I hated it, so I must have fucked up because everyone else seems to be having a great time.”

At first, they actually do – in Walker’s film, three British girls (Mia McKenna-Bruce, who’s terrific, Lara Peake and Enva Lewis) go on their first grown-up holiday to some hellish town in Greece, seemingly populated only by puking teens with their “deep-fried fags” and – I swear – “titty glasses”. The party is on, constantly, and they seem to be liberated enough to talk about getting laid. All. The. Time. Still, it’s very much like those infamous chats in Kids. Everyone is acting here, putting on some kind of a show, or simply enjoying the sight of a friend feeling uncomfortable. When they finally have to face something painful, standing in front of tempting tax-free cosmetics, they don’t know what to do.

That’s also because, as a girl, you just can’t do anything right. You can’t be a “slut”, but you can’t be a virgin either – at least that’s what McKenna-Bruce’s Tara thinks. You can partake in idiotic games and choke on beer poured into your mouth, “blow-job style”, but you can’t say “no” when things escalate. Maybe because nobody really knows how to have sex here and they are not allowing themselves the time to learn or even ask questions. Here’s hoping that one day girls, or simply teens, won’t feel the need to please anyone else but themselves any more. And that some of these predictable, unpleasant scenarios will disappear – just like White Parties.

How to Have Sex was written by Molly Manning Walker, and it was produced by the UK’s Wild Swim Films, with Heretic Films (Greece) and Umedia (Belgium) also on board. International sales are entrusted to mk2 Films.

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