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2.6.12

For Your Consideration: 'Turn Me On, Dammit!'

Adolescence is an awful time to be alive, which thankfully we only have to survive once. Turn Me On, Dammit! (Få meg på, for faen), the first feature from Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, a Norwegian documentary and short film director, follows the growing pains of a 15-year-old girl named Alma in the tiny town of Skoddeheimen, Norway, but it could be any rural town anywhere. Alma's pointed introduction to her town, in voice-over in the opening sequence, outlines the boring details of this place where there is nothing but sheep, a small circle of friends, the occasional teen party, and her own vivid sexual fantasies -- the breathtaking beauty of the place, along one of Norway's gorgeous fjords, does not register in a teenager's consciousness, but why would it? Wait, what was that about sexual fantasies? Yes, that is what powers the engine of this quirky little film, to Jacobsen's own screenplay, based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen (who has a cameo in the film as the voice of the wife of Sebjørn, who runs the local grocery store). Alma's intense fantasies -- about her neighbor Artur (Matias Myren), about her friend Ingrid, about the man she speaks to on a phone sex line -- are so real that sometimes she has trouble distinguishing them from reality. When she has an odd encounter with Artur at a party -- did it actually happen, or was it only in her imagination? -- she finds herself an outcast for even speaking about it.

It is 20-year-old Helene Bergsholm's debut as Alma, whom she plays with fresh-faced candor and humor, not easy considering the frankness with which the script confronts the innermost thoughts of her character. There are more than a few similarities with, rather than (probably) references to, Twin Peaks, another northern town with plenty of weirdness going on, not least in some of the original music by Ginge Anvik, in a style sometimes akin to that for David Lynch's television show. At least for me, among the many high-school teen angst movies it could be like, the one that came most to mind was Heathers. Here there are also three friends, led by Ingrid (Beate Støfring), who with her pink lip gloss runs the show and expects the others to tow her line (I wonder what the Norwegian is for "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?"). Ingrid's sister, Sara (Malin Bjørhovde, a sort of Scandinavian Janeane Garofalo), is the smart one, with plans to get out of Skoddeheimen and go to Texas to fight for the abolition of the death penalty. She even writes letters to convicts on death row, like a sort of epistolary diary. Alma has to start a part-time job to pay for the phone sex costs, which her mother (Henriette Steenstrup) discovers, so she works as a clerk at the local grocery store, for Ingrid and Sara's father, Sebjørn (Jon Bleiklie Devik).


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Alma's problem is not that she has these fantasies -- that is quite normal -- but her daring to express them and claim them is what gets her into trouble. Skoddeheimen is not an actual place, but a composite of anonymous towns in western Norway, like Solheimsdalen in the county Sogn og Fjordane, where Olaug Nilssen grew up. “It’s supposed to be anywhere in Norway that is dominated by tall mountains, dark fjords and fog,” Jacobsen is quoted as saying on the film's Web site. "In the nynorsk dialect of the area, 'Skodde' is a word for fog, and 'Heimen' means homestead." Most of the locations were shot in the county of Rogaland. In a small town everyone knows everyone else's business, and Jacobsen uses black-and-white stills with voice-overs to tell the story of how knowledge of Alma's transgression is carried along the gossip chain. The busybody next door, Magda (Hilde-Gunn Ommedal), is always watching them, but on the other hand when Alma turns up missing, her mother knows that whatever she may have missed about her daughter's life, the neighbor will know.

This film is now playing in Washington, exclusively at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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