Audrey Estrougo’s directorial debut Regarde-moi is reminiscent of another tale of teenager love that uses its setting of the French housing projects to much greater insight, Abdel Kechiche’s 2004 Games of Love and Chance. This new film uses the projects as little but a simple, colorful background rather than an idiosyncratic community worth exploring, not to mention a socially, economically, racially and politically charged place to grow up, find love, and live in. The film tries its best not to touch any buttons or spark any minds in these directions, but what it does do, if not well than at least admirably, in lieu of these grand concerns, is try to take on the equally ambitious one of gender.
The film briefly plunges into a small community of a single building’s resident teens for a day or two, taking the first half of the film from the point of view of the boys and the second half following the same time frame, but this time from the point of view of the girls. Unfortunately, simply the idea is not enough, and this change in structure and focus ends up being more a tease than anything particularly gender specific, or radically, let alone subtly, different in terms of sensitivities, desires, or relationships. This banal, easy middle course is definitely the same attitude with which Regarde-moi fails to engage the reality of the project setting on the whole.
With these crucial weaknesses being mentioned, one should move away from specifics of place, theme, and structure, and point out the great strength that Estrougo’s has in her feature film debut, and that is treating her children like adults. While much of the film should be criticized for its overeager fun but unspecific engagement of the projects—essentially how little influence it really has on these teens’ lives—it is nevertheless the fact that the teenagers' relationships are not specifically that of teenagers, and could so easily be those of adults, that gives the film a certain calm confidence and ease within the characters’ milieu.
Despite focusing on the seeming immaturities of sex, race, and gossip, these kids exhibit their maturity by fluently understanding and engaging in this exchange of talk, relationships, and social appearance. The film flirts here and there with a more showy, bold stylization—a great establishing shot of a dog licking the camera lens, a silent scene complete with an intertitle, a jump to black and white, direct to camera address—that really underlines the great variety of material and techniques with which one could tackle this setting, whereas Estrougo generally sticks to the average teenage schoolyard drama and a conventional portrayal. But when it treats teens, their actions, emotions, and honor, with the seriousness with which they treat it themselves, Regarde-Moi does have a certain something, a strong understanding of the strength and earnestness of character at any age.