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GIRL PICTURE: A Riveting Portrait of Generation Z in search of Love and Identity

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By Roger Costa

What is it like to feel lonely and displaced even when you are surrounded by people? What is like to live in a world where you can’t find your voice, understanding, or freedom? How does it feel to live in an era of modern behavior and easy access, yet not being able to fulfill the essential needs of care and attention and pleasure? Most teens and young adults now-a-days face challenges and pressures at a greater level than ever before. They are unique, determined, and always flirting with disaster while dealing with the hurdles of modernity.

In this beautifully crafted, sensitive, realistic and absorbing coming of age dramedy, Finnish director Alli Haapasalo raises those questions with an emphatic eye, offering an extraordinary triple-female character study. The result, her third directorial effort, proves her competence with the material, which should lead her to higher goals, after taking home the Audience Award for World Cinema at this year’s Sundance. This is an accomplished humanistic work that deeply and engagingly observes the emotions of three young women approaching womanhood and all of its responsibilities and insecurities, while facing their own dilemmas, traumas, dreams, sexual desires and risks. These three actresses give remarkably convincing, moving and heartbreaking performances that deserve to be honored when Awards season comes. It is a stunning portrait of the Generation Z and all of its euphoria, reckless emotions and tireless quest for their interests and goals. But mostly it is about their feelings and reactions toward love, sex, family, career, and social connections.

Fresh, lively and full of enthusiasm, the film follows the adventures of best friends Mimmi and Ronkko, who work together at a mall’s juice shop, and Emma who is a devoted figure skater. Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) is a tomboy who is ready to promote liberalism and anarchism. She is introduced during a sports game among other students, where she starts a brawl; She has serious anger issues as well as emotional disorder; she’s lovely, charismatic, but she also is cruel. We learn that her conflicts and stormy attitude are linked to her unresolved relationship with estranged mother; Emma (Linnea Leino) is obsessed with her athletic talents, determined to achieve perfection at her skating practice, enduring pain, stress, and pressure in order to be ready for an important tournament. Behind her strong image lies a fragile, sensitive and harmless girl who just needs to be heard (and held). After exchanging insults to each other, Mimmi and Emma embrace an uncontrollable desire, experiencing the ecstatic feeling of first love. Of course, a few obstacles will cross their way, putting their young and reckless love at a definitive test, most due to their temperamental and firm personalities. On the other side of the plot, the genuinely silly and unexperienced Ronkko (Eleonoora Kauhanen) struggles to find sexual pleasure, going on in disastrous attempts to score an orgasm. She gets herself in trouble at every try, as she can’t control her thoughts on how to better sexually perform to the men she’s fond of. One particular case, a naïve and old-fashioned customer who insists in taking her out, tries his best to sort her case out, providing a marvelously disastrous and hilarious, yet tender and compassionate romantic situation that is indeed unforgettable. These three fantastic actresses give themselves completely to their characters, getting multiple chances to charmingly hypnotize the viewer, enchanting and intriguing our minds, making us rejoice, laugh and also cry. Most of the time, you feel like making yourself into the screen and hugging them so strong, all their fears would go away.

This is a major female cinematic achievement for the director, as she extracts these powerful, fearlessly raw performances from the trio of actresses, while deeply and beautifully observing their reactions, motivations and expectations. All three manage to conquer our hearts and affection, providing moments of human reflections with incredible balance between the realistic drama and comedic relief of a story about youngsters in search of love and identity.

As we get immersed and entangled in this irresistible girls’ picture, director Alli Haapasalo leaves an impressive mark as a sensitive and perceptive filmmaker. The result is an astonishing and riveting portrait of the confusions of love and career affecting the Generation Z.

“Girl Picture” is one of this year’s best films. Alongside “Playlist”, “Paris 13th District”, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” and “Medusa”, it has a special place on my Top 10 as one work to masterly define a generation.

(Strand Releasing. 8/12. IFC Center. Director Haapasalo will be in attendance for Q&A at selected screenings.)


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