Film Review: Girls Lost (dir. Alexandra-Therese Keining)
Updated: Aug 23
At a time when the Safe Schools initiative is being debated, it is quite appropriate to have Girls Lost playing at Melbourne Queer Film Festival. With a heavy dose of magical realism and fantasy, this new Swedish drama follows three young girls whose bullied lives at school are transformed by the discovery of a mysterious plant secreting a liquid that allows them to turn into boys. With penises and everything!
The girls—abused and hurled names like “lesbian” and “ugly whore”; their suffering not just ignored by teachers but almost encouraged under the guise of developing strength and a thick skin—initially take to their transformative horticulture with aplomb, embracing the newfound freedom and escape from ritualistic bullying with a spring in their step. But soon the swagger and bravura of teenage masculinity wears thing for all except Kim, who sees it as a way to live her life as the identity she feels has been hiding inside her yet has been unable to come out.
Swedish cinema has been a hotbed of this sort of cinema as of late, with films such as Something Must Break and We Are the Best poignantly examining modern day gender, sexuality, and the youth experience. Girls Lost wants to look at each of these things and more, filmmaker Alexandra-Therese Keining adapting a prize-winning Young Adult novel by Jessica Schiefauer finds many universal truths within the life of these teenagers while also specifically zooming in on the issue of transgender youth.
The use of the fantastical could have easily verged on twee, but instead offers its characters and the audience the sort of movie magic that can open minds. By allowing Kim to actually become a boy physically and mentally, the issues of identity and gender become even more acutely realised and the burdens of being a teenage girl, as well, are highlighted. As are those around being a teenage boy in a society that rewards brute masculinity and send vulnerable young men down a self-destructive path of damaging self-hatred.
It helps that the casting is so completely spot on. They could not have cast three boys who look any more like their female counterparts. Tuva Jagell and Emrik Öhlander are given much of the narrative’s heavy lifting and they do equally impressive work representing two different sides of Kim as he becomes the person he has always wanted to be at the detriment to his friendships.
Girls Lost is arguably too long, but while it’s vague about the potential of tragic endings that so often plague this sort of independent queer titles, it does nonetheless confront the realities that continue to plague trans teenagers in a society that continues to play catch up on the broadening scope of identity.
It’s not exactly subtle—a David Bowie poster and a Grace Jones record are among the props that figure prominently in its opening scenes—but it has some strong statements to make about the fluidity of sexuality and more adults seeking curious material as well as younger audiences intrigued by explorations of the subject, it should be a suitably effective and unique viewing.