Få meg på, for faen
(a.k.a. Turn Me On, Dammit!)
starring Helen Bergsholm, Malin Bjørhovde, Henriette Steenstrup, Beate Støfring
screenplay by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen
directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
by Angelo Muredda Turn Me On, Goddammit opens with a provocation worthy of its title. Our introduction to fifteen-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm) finds her on the kitchen floor, masturbating to a phone-sex line (she's a preferred caller and sort-of friend to operator Stig (Per Kjerstad)) while her dog watches with interest. That's some hook, but Jannicke Systad Jacobsen's first dramatic feature after a string of documentaries is at its best when it bypasses this kind of frontal assault and plays to Jacobsen's strengths, namely her delicate touch with nonprofessional actors and sharp distillation of the gender politics of small-town life. While the film nicely delineates its washed-out setting of Skoddeheimen, a remote mountain village in Norway whose welcome sign kids unfailingly raise a middle-finger to on the bus ride home from school, Jacobsen's real boon is to capture a spectrum of teens' sexual attitudes within a hermetically-sealed but still fairly typical environment. While that might make Turn Me On, Goddammit sound like a dry sociological tome, Jacobsen and Bergsholm, in her debut, are adept at making Alma not a blank Norwegian Everygirl but someone who's credibly starting to cultivate her sexual proclivities in a hostile space.
Alma's trouble starts with a party at the local youth centre, where squinty-eyed choirboy and secret crush Artur (Matias Myren) meets her outside by the shed and--at least according to Alma, whose eyes are effectively ours--exposes himself. "He poked me with his dick," she tells everyone, feeling pretty good about herself, but Artur claims otherwise and everyone else follows suit, rechristening her "Dick-Alma." Jacobsen leaves Alma's credibility here somewhat in doubt: we've already seen her fantasize sleeping with Artur in a pair of dream sequences that are virtually indistinguishable from reality, except in lurid content. What's clear is that to her classmates--particularly the girls, whose faux-sophisticated knowledge of women's deference to men outside the village only makes them internalize their shame about sex all the more readily--it doesn't matter whether Alma's is telling the truth, only that she's the type of girl who thinks about dicks.
They all do, of course (the straight ones, anyway), but Jacobsen is perceptive, as well as being on the right side of cruel, about the small minds who would pathologize in others what they're guilty of themselves. She's sympathetic even to Alma's doddering mother (Henriette Steenstrup), who isn't exactly mean about her daughter's burst of hormonal activities, but legitimately can't fathom why she wouldn't keep them to herself, like other girls. There's no shortage of sexual-awakening movies in which pariahs go their own way, but Alma is something of an original in the sense that she's missing the filter she'd need to recognize herself as an outsider. Bergsholm, whose expressive face runs the gamut from self-satisfaction to concern, makes palpable Alma's confusion about the torrent of disapproval her horniness inspires in otherwise-rational people. The film's loveliest movement is a narrative interlude where she visits a friend's college-aged sister in Oslo. Beside that girl and her worldly twentysomething roommates, Alma is a painful study in earnestness, though this isn't Henry James, and no one is eager to tarnish the innocent: their protectiveness of her, and their confidence that Dick-Alma is just one identity she'll eventually shed, is moving.
There's a touch of Charles M. Schulz in the film's generous allowance for human foibles. Its goodwill is such that its missteps are more annoying than seriously damaging: Secondary characters are saddled with Sundance-ready quirks (like writing letters to American prisoners on Death Row), and the closing moments put an unconvincing big red bow on Alma's shitty year. There's not a lot to Turn Me On, Goddammit, but there doesn't need to be, either; thorny gender politics aside, this is comic portraiture at its lightest.
Turn Me On, Goddammit! starts its Toronto run at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, May 18th.