Monday, July 2, 2012

Turn Me On, Dammit!

We get umpteen movies about teenage boys’ sexual awakenings but precious few that tell the (often far more interesting) stories of teenage girls’ human development. Jannicke Jacobsen’s “Turn Me On, Dammit!” continues the recent Scandinavian tradition of charmingly matter-of-fact coming-of-age films, of which the apotheosis may have been Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 “Show Me Love.”

Jacobsen’s protagonist is 15-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm), a tall, thin, pretty blonde who lives in the sleepy Norwegian town of Skoddeheimen. I’ve always believed the youth of a small town can be thought of as two separate groups: those who will make their lives in the town, and those who will escape as soon as possible. Alma seems to be in the latter group; definitely in it is her friend Saralou, a brunette smoker activist who writes dozens of pen-pal letters to inmates on Texas’ death row. Each time their school bus passes the “Welcome to Skoddenheim” signpost, the two flip it the bird. The film’s title conveys their frustration at small-town life as well as Alma’s lack of a sexual outlet.

Alma finds herself slipping back and forth from reality to fantasies about many of the boys and men with whom she comes into contact. Some of the fantasies involve feelings of affection; some do not. Among the more loving are those involving her schoolmate Artur (well-cast Matias Myren). When Alma and Artur excuse themselves from a party and go out back, where Artur pokes Alma’s thigh with his penis, we’re not sure whether it’s actually happened. But Alma tells Saralou and her sister, Ingrid, it has, and Ingrid, who also likes Artur, takes the accusation public. When Artur denies it, Alma is ostracized and by school the next day has become a social outcast.

Jacobsen expertly walks the line between frankness and vulgarity for its own sake. While Alma suffers some public humiliation, she is determined on a personal level not to be embarrassed by her nascent sexuality. There’s an amusing sequence in which her mother opens the telephone bill and finds thousands of kroner in charges from a 976-type operation. “Alma,” she asks, “how could you call a service number?” “Telephone sex,” Alma corrects her, and they get into a screaming match punctuated by Alma’s repeated cries of “Sex telephone! Sex telephone! Sex telephone!”

At 75 minutes, “Turn Me On, Dammit!” is vulnerable to the charge of lightness and slightness. It’s not a comedy played for guffaws. I found it breezy yet poignant, and took it in with a wry smile of recognition.

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