The coming of age story is a timeless film subject. It's been done over and over so many times that one expects that there couldn't possibly be anything original or interesting or compelling to be said on the subject. But the subject is timeless because it is forever relevant, and it only takes a filmmaker of skill and subtlety to put in another word that's worth listening to. That's what we have with the Swedish film The Girl
The Girl herself, played by Blanca Engstrom, is never named. She's a precocious, though reserved, ten year old who's quite smart but rather shy. She's very excited about the family's upcoming mission trip to Africa over the summer. But her father receives a fateful phone call from the sponsoring aid organization that reveals she is one year too young to go, he calls his flighty sister Anna (Tova Magnusson-Norling) and asks her to stay the summer and watch the Girl.
The Girl quickly tires of her aunt, doubtless irked generally about not being able to join her parents and older brother on their trip to exotic Africa, and acting out in resentment. But she has some valid reasons to complain. Anna is woefully irresponsible. She has no job or other visible means of support. She constantly has a glass of wine in her hand, and invites drunken friends over to party to the wee hours. The Girl, being fiercely independent, decides that she's had enough and, posing as Anna, sends a letter, cut from magazines like a ransom note, to Anna's boyfriend, asking him to take her sailing. Anna allows herself to be swept away on a long sailing trip, leaving the Girl to her own devices. And the Girl does quite well for herself, considering her age. She stops going to swimming lessons, but she keeps the house cleaner than when Anna was around and acts as responsibly as a ten year old girl home alone could be expected to.
And she has help. Though reluctantly at first, she quickly befriends a farm boy named Ola (Vidar Fors) who lives nearby. They spend most of their days together, some of the time with Tina and Gisela (Emma Wifgelt and Michelle Vistam), cousins and friends of the Girl's family. Tina and Gisela are a bit older, and much more mean spirited, than the Girl or Ola, and they instantly gang up on the younger boy. The Girl has to choose between her true friend Ola, and the "cool" older girls, and at least at first she does not choose well. It's a common enough scenario for most of us, joining in on the teasing and bullying, and here it's handled with grace.
The whole of The Girl is handled with grace. There's not much plot to speak of, and to call the film deliberately paced would be a kindness, but the viewer is given a deep look into the world of this little girl, what she is struggling with and what she fears. The central relationship is between her and Ola, but even more important than that is watching as the Girl grows more mature and develops as a person over the course of her solitary summer. She has a fierce need for independence, for the ability to guide her own destiny, but she learns the perils of going it alone. At times the film is almost dreamlike, as when the hot air balloonist makes an emergency landing in the Girl's yard. The viewer wonders for several moments whether she is dreaming or this is really happening. The sense of fondly remembered summers of our own is overwhelming, even if not in such extreme circumstances. In fact, the pervading sense of nostalgia is one of The Girl's greatest strengths. It has a feeling of comfort, of a resonance with the viewers' own memories, that is quite powerful. Layered over this is a sense that doom might befall the Girl at any moment. Her vulnerability attaches us to her. This is not high drama, though the emotions are just as intense, just buried under layers of youthful reticence. And it is not quickly paced, though there is no feeling of boredom or dragging on. This is a simple idea, well executed. Recommended.