I usually don’t watch Swedish movies – they give me the creeps. I grew up watching movies mainly produced in Sweden or the US, and somewhere along the way I started to dislike Swedish movies. But, intrigued by the trailer for Apflickorna (She Monkeys) shown at Guldbaggegalan (the Swedish Academy Awards) I watched the movie with my brother and his girlfriend. I wish I hadn’t.
The movie is centered around Emma and Cassandra, two girls engaged in equestrian vaulting. Emma joining the team is the start of a psychological power struggle between the two girls. It was awarded Best Narrative Feature at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and Best Manuscript at Guldbaggegalan. Review after review talks about how magnificent it is, that the power struggle between the two girls is portrayed in such a great way, that the movie deals with questions like how do you build a female identity, what do you lose on your way from childhood to adulthood – and I would’ve loved if that’s what it was about. But when the movie ended, I didn’t feel that I had seen more than a glimpse of that.
The movie was even more awkward than I would ever expect from a Swedish movie, causing us to make jokes throughout the movie just to be able to watch it until the end. Sometimes a movie needs to be disturbing to get you to think, or make you feel. But this movie really only made me want to step away.
And this is the problem I have with Swedish movies – they always make me uncomfortable. Sex scenes are always clumsy or filled with anxiety, people who are flirting (like the “power struggle”/”sexual tension” between the two main characters Emma and Cassandra, and Emma’s seven-year-old sister’s attempt to “flirt” with her older cousin by dancing for him in a leopard-print bikini – again: seven-years-old) are always either too young, too perverse, too violent, or just plain wrong. I understand that at times it can be hard to watch movies from other cultures since we differ in out storytelling traditions – but this is something I should be used to and so I can’t blame it on that.
This movie was by far the most awkward, disturbing movie I’ve seen in a long time – and I think that it could have been so much better. But it left me with nothing to think about – other than that Swedish Cinema really is the Queen of Awkwardness…