By Don Simpson | September 17, 2010
Director: Fredrik Edfeldt
Writer(s): Karin Arrhenius (screenplay)
Starring: Blanca Engström, Calle Lindqvist, Tova Magnusson-Norling, Shanti Roney, Annika Hallin
The titular girl (Blanca Engström) — who remains unnamed throughout the film — is left behind by her idealist parents (Shanti Roney & Annika Hallin) who are off to Africa with their older son (Calle Lindqvist) for a feel good summer of helping and saving Africans. Six months shy of 10-years old, the girl is too young to travel with them. A free-spirited aunt (Tova Magnusson-Norling) is summoned to stay with the girl, but it soon becomes obvious that parenting is not the aunt’s forte.
In a film in which it is the adults who act the most irresponsible, selfish and childish — at least in the absence of other adults — the girl is soon left alone fending for herself. (You know, like Home Alone…but without Joe Pesci and Swedish.) The girl keeps it secret that she is on her own, but that does not absolve her from feeling adult emotions (such as abandonment and loss) that the girl probably has little or no prior experience with. When it comes down to it, she does not want to be thrust into adulthood; she just wants to be left alone to have fun. (Just ask Cyndi Lauper — she will tell you that girls just want to have fun.) She seems to know how to keep the fun responsible, because otherwise her charade will probably be uncovered. (Other children lead her astray from the path of responsibility, but she always finds her way back.)
Teetering on a fine line between resiliency and totally falling apart, the girl reveals an incomparable amount of stoicism and tenacity. The expression of the girl’s freckled face remains unflinching, if not cold and emotionless, behind her thicket of wild orange hair for a majority of the film. The girl matures quickly throughout the timeline of the film — however long that actually is as The Girl cleverly lacks any notion of time — she is even inspired to learn about female anatomy, such as breast and vagina development.
Shot in Upphärad, Trollhättan by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In), The Girl captures the mood of summertime in rural Swedish while carefully balancing visual lyricism and realism. This feature film debut by Swedish director Fredrik Edfeldt is a magnificent example of Swedish cinema’s poetic coolness. Maintaining a safe distance from the onscreen events and making sure that the characters do not over-explain their situations — and especially not their emotions — Edfeldt reveals a significant amount of respect and trust for his actors. (The lack of name for the lead character adds to the feeling of detachment.)
The naturalness of Engström’s acting debut — a primarily facial one at that — is what really makes The Girl a fantastic film. Her interpretation of the purity, freedom and solitude of childhood is a transcending experience to say the least. Engström is a transfixing presence, and we the audience are left as helpless observers, stuck on the other side of the screen wanting to extend a kind and caring hand to assist her.