Rob Edelman: Girls Lost
If you go back through movie history, you’ll note that countless films from certain periods and cultures mirror those periods and cultures in innumerable ways. So it is not surprising that, in 2015, so many films deal with gender issues and sexual identity, not to mention the belief that all men and all women are created equal no matter their sexual orientation.
This has been the subject of quite a few films released this year. Several are high-profile, and were screened at the Toronto Film Festival. Among them are ABOUT RAY, the story of a teen who wishes to transition from female to male, whose cast includes Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, and Elle Fanning; the fact-based THE DANISH GIRL, featuring Eddie Redmayne as a transgender pioneer; and FREEHELD, also based-on-fact, with Julianne Moore as a terminally ill cop who fights to win her pension benefits for her domestic partner, played by Ellen Page.
However, some of these films admittedly are under the radar, either because they are not star-laden or they hail from non-English-speaking countries. One outstanding example is GIRLS LOST, a Swedish film directed and scripted by Alexandra-Therese Keining. The title refers to a trio of young teens who are bonded as buddies. Superficially, these best pals are like any other youngsters as they clown around and ride their bikes to school. But because of their closeness, they are bullied by their male classmates who label them lesbians. Meanwhile, those in authority are no help. After one particularly harsh incident, a teacher only can advise one of them to “toughen up.”
So it is no surprise when one of them casually declares that she wishes she was a boy, in order to avoid this harassment. Well, here is where the saying “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it” comes in. To cut to the chase, the girls plant some funny looking seeds in a greenhouse. The seeds quickly grow into a plant that secretes a special liquid. They drink this liquid, and find themselves transformed into boys. To describe what happens next would be giving too much away. Suffice to say that it is clever, original, and extremely mind-massaging.
While steeped in fantasy, GIRLS LOST deals in uncompromising terms with the feelings and yearning of young people who are different from their peers. In this regard, the focus is on gender identity. What does it mean to be a girl? What does it mean to be a boy? Furthermore, we may be male or female on the outside, but who are we really on the inside?
Beyond her characters and their situation, Keining asks a pertinent question: Aren’t all young people merely trying to discover who they are? And truly, it is shameful and on occasion even a tragedy-in-the-making when sexual objectification and bullying hamper an individual’s self-discovery. Finally, GIRLS LOST opens with a quote that resonates throughout the film. That is: “If you’re blind to what is different, this story is not for you. But if your eyes are open, you should listen carefully.”
Rob Edelman as written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.
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