Recently I had the chance to interview an art director about his craft. I asked him to describe how he thought all the effort that he put into the sets will translate to the audience when it's all said and done. "You hope it's just a feeling... you know?" I realized then that's the most any artist hopes for, to display or transfer a feeling, indescribable by logic. That's why Black Swan was enchanting, why Cave of Forgotten Dreams was so moving, and it's why I couldn't separate my eyes from the screen while watching She Monkeys, the first narrative of Sweden's Lisa Aschan.
The subject matter is a little jarring, maybe that's how this film is so good: while it's entrancing it's also slightly uneasy to digest. A pre-sexualized 8 year-old who is in love with her cousin; and the competition between two teenage girls, one manipulative, both strong-willed. It's possible Aschan creates the feeling of unease by how bluntly she illustrates characteristics of good and bad, as journalist Ilya Tovbis pointed out to me in the festival press lounge when I asked him why he liked it. As opposed to black or white, as good and bad are often portrayed by amateur works of art (or Disney), she portrays them in a way so real that we the audience can't hide.
The visuals, stark and perfectly set with meticulous attention to detail while often bright and fun suggest youthful sexuality, tension, and perfection. By the time it ended suddenly, my feelings ranged from being slightly disturbed, a lighter feeling of damn, girls are mean, and like what I just watched was well-told.
She Monkeys is the first narrative of Sweden's Lisa Aschan, it won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at the Goteberg International Film Festival, and is up for the New Directors Film Prize Competition at SFIFF. Winners will be announced May 4th.