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Blanca Engstrom as THE GIRL (Photo: Olive Films)

Directed by
Fredrik Edfeldt
Produced by David Olsson

Written by Karin Arrhenius
Released by Olive Films
Swedish with English subtitles
Sweden. 100 min. Not Rated
Blanca Engstrom, Shanti Roney, Annika Hallin, Calle Lindqvist, Tova Magnusson-Norling, Leif Andrée, Vidar Fors, Ia Langhammer & Emma Wigfeldt

What almost-10-year-old hasn’t insisted she is all grown-up and wished that adults would just leave her alone? The Girl beautifully plays out every girl’s rebellious fantasy to do whatever she wants one summer.

A family’s plans for an altruistic summer vacation helping sick African children stumbles at the last minute—the sponsoring organization insists that only kids over 10 years old can come along, but their red-haired daughter (Blanca Engstrom) is just nine-and-a-half. Seemingly caring more for strangers than the distraught child in their own home, the parents decide to leave, taking her older brother with them.

Her father enlists his single sister Anna (Tova Magnusson-Norling) to care for his daughter in their rural home town in southern Sweden. The parents have also arranged for the girl to follow the family tradition of swimming lessons at a nearby lake. The intimidating high dive looms large in her life, exacerbating her resentment of abandonment. Outside of the lessons, she’s the object of taunts from the mean girls and shy approaches from a cute boy with his own outsider issues.

The girl (her name is never given) quickly figures out she is more level-headed than her often drunk aunt, who would much rather be spending her summer sailing with an ex-boyfriend, so the girl cleverly arranges their reunion, leading to the aunt’s speedy exit from the house. On her heady first day of freedom, she chooses not to get on the bus to the lake. She mimics adult responsibility by cleaning up the house and going grocery shopping. She’s quite artful with a neighbor in making excuses to get a lift home, and for many days she comes up with other tricks to fool busy adults.

Unlike either Hollywood’s Home Alone films or Michael Cuesta’s indie Twelve and Holding, the lonely girl’s challenges are more psychological than external. Her retreat into isolation is seen completely from her point of view—inside her house she descends into an enactment of her own kind of African survival safari. By the end, she learns grown-ups can be useful when you’re sick or your hair is all knotted, let alone for balloon rides.

Set in 1981, the screenplay reflects writer Karin Arrhenius’s memories of her childhood, and director Fredrik Edfeldt combines realism with the magical perspective of the interior life of childhood to make the girl’s summer unfold more like a modern version of The Secret Garden than the adventures of that iconic Swedish girl, the somewhat similar Pippi Longstocking. The sparkling cinematography is by Hoyte van Hoytema, who re-imagined a much darker eternal child in the original version of Let the Right One In.

Also key to making this lovely film special is Engstrom’s portrayal of the girl. As saucy as she’s sympathetic, she’s so much more natural than any of the Fanning sisters that the girl’s choice to finally confront that high dive feels more like a mature reckoning than a sentimental flourish. Nora Lee Mandel
September 17, 2010



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