She Monkeys

She Monkeys


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Presence, strength and control" are the key elements of the horse acrobatic sport of "voltige", we're told during the course of Lisa Aschan's feature film debut. They are also the engine that drives this unsettling and unusually enigmatic coming of age film, which took home the top award at 2011's Tribeca Film Festival.

Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser) is a mousey sort. Living at home with her dad and younger sister Sara (Isabella Lindquist), she spends her days partially looking after Sara and partly training her dog to respond to nothing more than the sound of a clicker. She joins the local voltige club where she meets the confident Cassandra (Linda Molin), with her lithe agility, nail polish and strong sense of self-assurance. "I can teach anyone anything," Cassandra tells her. It's a simple statement but one that already hints at the broody power play that will develop between them.

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The girls become almost inseparable, but there is always a tension; the conflict between who is the stronger character. Although Cassandra may initially seem to be the one who holds the training 'clicker', encouraging Emma to trust her even when the quieter girl knows there are dangers, it is Emma who begins to find ways of passive-agressive dominance. Jealousy is also a constant companion, tipping games over the edge into something more sinister.

As with Céline Sciamma's Tomboy, there are hints at sapphic sexuality, but this is more the girls exploring boundaries - wherever they may lie - and flexing their ability to manipulate. Aschan has chosen an austere, cold palette that reflects the cool calculations of Cassandra and Emma as they vie for dominance and she and her co-writer Josefine Adolfsson keep the scripting stripped down, so that the body language of the pair is as important as what they pay lip-service to.

Sara acts as a counterpoint to these darker waters, with her childlike approach to sexuality. And it is through her innocence that Aschan and Adolfsson explore the way in which we, as adults, often leap to misinterpret children's actions and to force our views upon them. In two key scenes, we see how an almost 'garden of Eden' moment forces Sara to feel an unecessary and unfairly apportioned shame and, later, we find how the selection of a particular swimsuit is for far more child-orientated reasons than might first appear. The inclusion of a toy horse is also a clever choice, as it both echoes Emma's hobby and further explores notions of 'play'.

Built on the shifting sands of childhood and adolescence, She Monkeys has an undercurrent of unease in which the characters are struggling to become 'adult', whatever that may mean.

"I want to be like I was before," says one, although she - and we - know that is an impossibility.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2012
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An intense relationship of power-play develops between two girls on an equestrian acrobatics team.
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Director: Lisa Aschan

Writer: Josefine Adolfsson, Lisa Aschan, Helene Lindholm

Starring: Kevin Caicedo Vega, Maria Hedborg, Sigmund Hovind, Inger Lindberg, Isabella Lindquist, Adam Lundgren, Sergej Merkusjev, Linda Molin, Malin Müller, Nasrin Pakkho, Mathilda Paradeiser, Elin Söderquist

Year: 2011

Runtime: 83 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Sweden

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