Susannah Bain reviews new film Girls Lost, a Swedish drama about three young girls who become boys for a day.
The opening of Alexandra-Therese Keining’s Girls Lost provokes strong feelings of nostalgia. The first scenes are ones which many women can relate to: three best friends chatting, laughing and spending time together. The innocence and bliss of their relationship is echoed in Sophia Ersson’s score and the visual’s ephemeral colours. In their protective triad the girls are joyful and secure.
However, beyond the seclusion of friendship, Kim (Tuva Jagell), Momo (Louise Nyvall) and Bella (Wilma Holmén) are subject to some of the worst aspects of growing up female. They face taunting at school – abuse and assaults from mobs of boys who, due to their own insecurities and learned attitudes, see them as little more than breasts and sluts. In an early scene, set during a PE lesson, as Momo runs a group of boys start chanting about her boobs. The (female) PE teacher does not react, and Momo is left humiliated. For many women, such behaviour is all too relatable.
It is from this groundwork of abuse, founded purely on gender, that the plot unfolds. The girls find a mysterious seed from a parcel containing garden goods. Once planted, the seed produces a nectar that allows the girls to become male until the next sunrise. This notion is incredibly thought-provoking – tapping into the universal curiosity of inhabiting the Other, while simultaneously implicating the rigidity of gender roles and expectations. It is sad that, even in 2016, the nectar is emancipatory – suddenly the trio can access male environments.
Kim, who is superbly acted both in male and female forms by Emrik Ohlander and Tuva Jagell respectively, finds herself more comfortable in a male body than a female one. The film depicts this storyline of gender confusion and frustration – of transgender pain – with a deeper understanding and sensitivity than many films before have managed. Kim will never permanently have the birth body we associate with men, meaning temporary visits to such a body cause immense pain. The reactions of those around her, and the struggle to find one’s place, are shown with brutal honesty, as punctuated by Sophie Ersson’s incredible soundtrack, and a fearless use of silence. Girls Lost’s honest depiction of gender identity is almost akin to that of Celine Sciamma’s 2011 film Tomboy.
My issue with the film was whether it truly tapped into the male world. Tony (Mandus Berg), who Kim befriends in their male existence, seems pained and consequently violent to an almost hyperbolic extent. He steals and sells weapons, and carries a gun, but his aspirations and psyche are not satisfactorily explored. The film had greater scope to delve into male culture. Though issues such as male discourse surrounding females were touched on, they were not brought out enough.
However, what the film does with its premise of being able to see the world in a new light, is extremely original. Rather than the conventional ‘finding oneself and one’s friends’ plot one might expect, we see rupture. There is fragmentation of friendship, discoveries of new identities, new dynamics, new tensions. And maybe the fact things remain unexplored and resolved is a part of this. Maybe a lack of full, satisfying happy endings is a part of growing up.
Featured Image: GirlsLostFilm.com