American films have devoted much screen time to male horndogs. But when it comes to the sexuality of an under-aged girl? It's either sanitized through romance, sublimated (Twilight), maligned (the character of the "slut"), or lampooned (American Pie).
Well, in Turn Me On, Dammit (which nabbed Best Screenplay for a Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival), Norwegian filmmaker Jannicke Systad Jabobsen has taken the original, startling tack of presenting a young girl's desire as normal.
The film launches, no holds barred, with Alma masturbating on the floor to phone sex, bemusedly watched by the family dog, just as her mother arrives home. (The dog's bemused expression raises canine thesping to new heights.) Rabid horniness is the default state of fifteen-year-old Alma, whose fantasies range from romantic encounters with cute schoolmate Artur, to down-and-dirty daydreams about practically everybody she encounters in her small town in the Norwegian boonies. Forced by her mother to work at a grocery to pay the big phone sex bill, she even fantasizes, while sitting on a roll of coins, about the very unsexy grocer.
Alma's erotic longing runs parallel with and is another facet of her passion to escape small town life -- an aspiration shared by her girlfriends. Amusingly, she dreams of going to Texas to abolish capital punishment, while a friend writes letters to a site called Prison Pen Pals which go unmailed. Along with the addled hormones of adolescence, Systad Jacobsen insightfully captures its irrationality and atmosphere of melodrama, in which tiny events assume titanic proportions.
The catalyzing event occurs at a party when Artur literally pokes Alma with his dick. When she tells her friends, they're incredulous, Artur denies the act, and Alma ends up ostracized by her schoolmates. Even two little neighboring girls on a trampoline taunt her by chanting "Alma Dick."
"In effect, the people around Alma," says Systad Jacobsen, "make big problems out of something that's not really a problem."
The communal gang-up on a young woman for being sexually forthright echos the bullying issue that has lately surfaced in American culture. Nor does Alma get any support on the home front. "There's something abnormal about Alma." says her dour single mom, who wears ear plugs at night to muffle her daughter's round-the-clock acts of self-gratification. The third act wrap is a bit fast and faintly ludicrous, but entirely in keeping with the film's quirky tone.
A close cousin to American indie films, Turn Me On is a must-see for its bold, fresh style of filmmaking, surprising at every turn and utterly true to its theme. The mainly non-professional actors (especially Helene Bergsholm as Alma) are spot on, adept at purveying the kind of deadpan, depressive drollery peculiar to Scandinavian cinema. In fact, the off-center comedy of this terrific "small" film evokes -- no mean feat -- that of the great Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki.
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