Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Turn Me On, Dammit! (August 24th and 25th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[TURN ME ON DAMMIT! screens Friday August 24th at 9:15 pm And Saturday August 25th at 7:20 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Pamela Zoslov

Alma, the pretty blond 15-year-old heroine of the Norwegian comedy TURN ME ON, DAMMIT! (Få meg på, for faen) is obsessed with sex. She masturbates furiously while fantasizing about her schoolmate, Artur. She is also a regular customer of a phone-sex fantasy line.

Alma's erotic obsession is likely the result of living in a dull rural town called Skaddeheimen. So hated is this (fictional) town that Alma (Helen Bergsholm) and her girlfriends want more than anything to escape, whether to Oslo or America. Whenever they travel by bus back to town, the girls give the town's welcome sign a middle-finger salute.

The film, directed and co-written by Janicke Systad Jacobsen from a novel by Olaug Nilssen, won the screenplay prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Jacobsen made her feature debut with this film, using mostly untrained actors to good effect. They project a deadpan authenticity that suits the sardonic script and drab landscape captured by Marianne Bakke's grimly evocative cinematography.

What sets this film apart from the usual coming-of-age tales is its focus on adolescent female sexuality. Alma is not just mooning over an unrequited crush; she's ferociously sexual at an age, and in a place, where there is no acceptable expression for her urges. What's a girl to do? Her mother (Henriette Steenstrup), overhearing her daughter's masturbatory moans, is beside herself with embarrassment, and even more consternated when the phone bill arrives.

The film toggles between reality and Alma's fantasies about Artur (Matais Myren). Her crush takes a bizarre turn when she attends a community dance and Artur makes an obscene move on her. She tells the rest of her classmates about Artur's dirty deed, and is immediately ostracized. Everywhere she goes, Alma is shunned and taunted with an obscene nickname that sticks. Only one of her friends, Saralou (Malin Bjørhoude), a girl who writes but never mails letters to American death-row inmates, agrees to speak to her, but only away from school grounds. Alma's troubles mount when her mother forces her to get a supermarket job to pay for the phone sex charges. In her boredom, a rack full of racy magazines proves too tempting.

The film has the taciturn absurdity typical of Norwegian cinema. Alma's adolescent agonies – romantic and social rejection, sexual frustration – are recognizable in any language, but it is particularly amusing when the neighborhood children chant Alma's vulgar nickname (in Norwegian, it sounds like “Pic-Alma, Pic-Alma!”) while bouncing on a trampoline. The film is filled with many such touches of sardonic whimsy.

The narrative isn't quite enough to sustain the film's length, and its bold portrayal of young sexuality is not for everyone. But the movie is distinguished by its unusual tone, texture and girl-centric point of view. 3 out of 4 stars.

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