Film Review: ‘Girl Picture’5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Director: Alli Haapasalo
Cast: Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, Linnea Leino, Mikko Kauppila, Amos Brotherus
Runtime: 100 minutes
Written by Goh Yu Ke
What’s better than one love story? Two love stories, of course! With Girl Picture, or Tytöt tytöt tytöt (Girls girls girls in the film’s native Finnish), director Alli Haapasalo takes us through the last dregs of teenagehood with her universally-reaching coming-of-age tale, vibrant and glitzy even in the dark Finnish winter. In the eyes of the three titular girls Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff), Ronkko (Eleonoora Kauhanen), and Emma (Linnea Leino), the film rumbles through all the usual beats of a teenage comedy, of first love, sex, expectations and rebellion; but, all the same, hits them all so warmly and attentively that one must simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Though still stewing in high school — and indeed, the film opens with Mimmi’s obvious disinterest in gym class, resulting in a tussle that cements her “outcast” archetype — Mimmi and Ronkko work in a smoothie stand in a mall, where the former meets (and gets off on a bad foot with) Emma, a popular yet isolated competitive figure skater who’s wholly dedicated to getting through to the European Championships.
Ronkko, on the other hand, is struggling with finding sexual gratification with other people, and stumbles awkwardly through an interaction with the handsome Jarmo (Mikko Kauppila), a regular customer who asks her out on a date. Later, at a party (what’s a teen movie without a party?) that eventually turns sour, Mimmi and Emma flee on a road trip that takes on the glow of new love, while Ronkko embarks on a determined journey to discover what it’s like to actually enjoy a sexual encounter.
Backed by a dreamy powerhouse of a soundtrack, the visual mastery behind the wonderfully framed and lit shots is undeniable: the scene that comes to mind is that which follows a climactic moment in Emma and Mimmi’s relationship, where Mimmi looks out from a swing set to the twinkling lights of the city in the middle of the night – a neat contrast with how Emma looks down at it from her hotel room in the cold blue light of early morning. Though she draws the short end of the screentime stick, however, Ronkko is lavished with just as much visual attention: the scene where she plays laser tag with a prospective partner is a feast for the eyes, awash in weighty reds and blues.
What makes the film particularly affecting, in addition to its powerful camerawork, are the phenomenal performances of its three leads. Mimmi’s sharp-tongued punk persona convincingly gives way to a tumultuous emotional depth, spurred by her abandonment by a remarried mother; Emma, experiencing the rebellion of adolescence after a lifetime of sporting sacrifice, never quite sheds the commitment to skating even as she insists otherwise.
Even as they flail through the ups and downs of a first relationship, and as Ronkko muddles her way through a series of encounters in search of the promised pleasure, it’s with gentleness and humour that we’re prompted to watch over these girls. We’re walking alongside them, rather than ahead of them, guided to understand their every emotion and decision (no matter how ill-advised) and to support them every step of the way.
It’s in this structure of mutual support – between the audience and the girls, from Haapasalo and screenwriters Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen’s nurturing hands, and amongst the characters themselves, do the many love stories within the film emerge. There is, of course, Mimmi and Emma’s romance, but also Ronkko’s emerging acceptance of herself, as well as the sisterhood between the girls as they come together in the end. The love stories don’t stop there, either. An affectionately protective mother and a stern, yet kindly coach feature heavily in Emma’s life; Mimmi finds an unexpected source of support in an understanding policewoman, as well as a moment of catharsis with her own absent mother.
As much as Girl Picture is a portrait of three young women joyously and chaotically growing into themselves, then, it’s also a quiet shoutout to femininity and the essential support of women in all our lives. The girl picture is completed by the friends, lovers, mothers, and strangers who raise and nourish us (or not), and it’s what makes the film such a thoughtful and heartwarming watch.
This article is produced as part of the Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme, organised by *SCAPE and The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the Writer:
Goh Yu Ke is an English Literature and Film Studies student at the National University of Singapore. At present, her interests in literature and film revolve around the Asian diaspora and the poetics of space. When she’s not reading or busy being a student, you can find her working through her watchlist of 1940s screwball comedies.