Impressive coming-of-age drama with frank depiction of adolescent sexuality
A courageous, periodically unsettling coming-of-age tale, She Monkeys is the arresting first feature from director Lisa Aschan. It’s a Swedish production which - in its frank approach to adolescent sexuality - bears comparison with Katell Quillévéré’s recent, similarly impressive Love Like Poison - albeit with a cooler aesthetic and a steelier edge. She Monkeys is unafraid to propel itself into taboo territory, traversing a minefield of growing pains.
It stars Mathilda Paradeiser as Emma, an ambitious, indomitable 14-year-old, who holds her nerve to secure a place on the local voltige (equestrian vaulting) team. It’s there that she attracts the attention of the magnetic, confident Cassandra (Linda Molin). They enter into a relationship which veers uneasily between competitiveness and tenderness. Meanwhile Emma’s six-year-old sister, Sara (Isabella Lindquist), is bewildered by an adult world that demands that she cover up her undeveloped body, lest she provoke inappropriate attention, but that manufactures garments which sexualise her. Sara is adorably huffy, cherubic and awkward; her love-struck advances toward her older cousin are both painful to behold and touchingly naïve.
As the film’s taciturn heroine, Paradeiser gives a mature, unwavering performance; she’s icy and guarded but discernibly damaged. The conspicuous absence of a mother-figure seems to have taken its toll as Emma tellingly advises Sara: 'Never show anyone your feelings, otherwise you’ll get hurt.' Lindquist too impresses, showing astonishing ability for her age; it’s rare to see the anxieties of such a young child foregrounded. If there’s a notable shortcoming it’s that She Monkeys feels like a film with more to say. However, with this terse and thought-provoking debut, Aschan - who worked as an assistant director on acclaimed TV series The Killing - announces her talent in no uncertain terms.
Selected release from Fri 18 May.