VOD film review: She Monkeys (Apflickorna)
Ivan Radford | On 10, Mar 2016Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Lisa Aschan
Cast: Mathilda Paradeiser, Linda Molin, Isabella Lindquist
Watch She Monkeys online in the UK: iTunes
Lisa Aschan’s feature debut describes itself as a Western. It certainly has horses in it. And twangy guitars. At one point, two horses even have sex. But in this Swedish standoff with social taboos, She Monkeys doesn’t shoot straighter than that. Aschan’s coming-of-age drama follows the intimate interaction between two awakening girls, but mounting horses is as graphic as it gets – a decision that makes the movie as fascinating as it is frustrating.
Emma (Paradeiser) enjoys being in control. Almost as much as she enjoys doing gymnastics on horses. So when she joins an equestrian gymastics club, she’s ready to compete for a place on the team. But to do that, she has to get past Cassandra (Molin). The only obstacle? They quite like each other.
“I love you,” whispers the steely-eyed Cassandra in one of their private training sessions. Does she mean it? The rivals fight for power as much as each other’s affection, their burgeoning romance blossoming into violence. One dizzying scene sees the two playing on the high dive at the swimming pool. Cassandra spins Emma round and round, giggling, then ruthlessly pushes her off the edge.
But while the young women wrestle with their development, Emma’s baby sister Sara (Lindquist) can’t want to join them. In love with her babysitter, Sara begs her dad to buy her a leopard spot bikini to catch his eye – a subplot that the helmer handles superbly, delicately balancing one awkward dance scene between a child’s cute innocence and society’s harsh awareness.
Indeed, Isabelle Lindquist’s quiet presence is so bullish that Sara almost steals the film from the older leads – and given the excellent performances from Paradeiser and Molin, that’s saying something. “She can’t walk around without a top on,” lectures one woman at the swimming pool as the little’un waits for her older sibling. “We’ve had problems… with men…” But Sara’s nanny turns to her. “It’s your decision,” she insists. “No one else’s.”
Aschan shoots the trio with a cool sense of detachment. The stuff on horseback looks stunning but as feelings run high, we only see Emma holding Cassandra’s hand or tickling her feet – an approach that conveys the limbo these adolescents are in, but Aschan’s emotional distance unfortunately prevents us from becoming fully engaged. Instead, we observed, uninvolved, as their game of control and sexual identity plays out.
“It’s not all about strength. It’s a show, you understand? You need to work on your presence,” advises Emma’s coach. As each of the kids tries to establish their position in the world, the message is clear: this is no country for young girls. Perhaps it is a Western after all.