Sunday, October 25, 2015

NewFest ’15: Girls Lost

This seed is nothing like Jack’s magic beans. It grows a flower that causes body switching, but not the kind you saw in Big or Freaky Friday. Three bullied girls of ambiguous sexuality will have the opportunity to experience life as the opposite sex in Alexandre-Therese Keining’s Girls Lost (trailer here), an adaptation of Jessica Schiefauer’s award-winning Swedish YA novel, which screens as the closing night selection of this year’s NewFest.

Kim, Momo, and Bella have always been bullied by classmates who assume they are lesbians. Naturally, the teachers look the other way, because they are bitter, low-level civil servants. The girls’ homes share a common backyard, so Bella’s greenhouse serves as their clubhouse. In her recent online nursery order she was surprised to find an exotic bonus seed, but being a teenager she plants anyway. The next day, it fully sprouts into a slightly sinister looking black flower. Juice from its buds will indeed produce the gender switch effect, but it is only temporary—and each usage clearly depletes the flower’s vitality.

For Momo and Bella, it is an interesting experience, but it does not hold deep psychological significance for them. In contrast, the transitory periods confirm Kim’s suspicions she is really meant to be a boy. Despite the pain it causes her friends, she spends more and more time in her altered state, so she can get close to Tony, their bad boy classmate, whom she suspects is also deeply closeted.

The ensuing complications regarding gender and sexuality get wickedly thorny. However, that complex rat’s nest of passions and resentments is what gives Lost so much power. This is not your average high school coming-of-age or coming-out story, but rather a supernaturally zeitgeisty love triangle. The young cast does some remarkable work selling the intricate and conflicting series of relationships, especially Tuva Jagell, Louise Nyvall, and Wilma Hollmen as Kim, Momo, and Bella in their original female selves. Emrik Ohlander, Alexander Gustavsson, and Vilgot Ostwald Vesterlund look like perfect male analogs, but only Gustavsson displays a similarly forceful screen presence.

Keining does not chicken out of showing the transition process, but the special effects team renders them in a way that is wonderfully subtle and evocative. Likewise, Ragna Jorming’s rich chiaroscuro-like cinematography and Sophia Ersson’s electro-soundscape score work perfectly in tandem to create an eerie mood. While the teen angst approaches melodramatic levels from time to time, Keining explores the emotional implications of the fantastical premise with brutal honesty. Obviously, it is an appropriate fit for NewFest audiences, but the characters’ insecurities should resonate for a wide range of “outsider” teens. Recommended for fans of teen urban fantasy, Girls Lost closes the 2015 NewFest this Tuesday night (10/27) at the Bow Tie Chelsea.