Gothenburg's Filmfestivalen or: why I'm sick of movies about abuse

Gothenburg’s Filmfestivalen or: why I’m sick of movies about abuse

Trigger warning: discussion of rape, suicide, abduction, abuse, pedophilia.

I am sick of being assaulted in cinemas by loud, violent, ‘edgy’ films. I’m sick of being stuck in a big, black room while a huge screen shows a fourteen-year-old girl having her shirt torn off by a pack of disgusting boys. Or an eighteen-year-old being molested by a drunk middle-aged man at a party. Or a young girl throwing up at a party. Or a couple of young men kicking the living shit out of one another. Or a girl getting raped on an old mattress outside a parking lot.

I’m sick of walking out of cinemas feeling like I’ve witnessed some sort of horrible violation.

One of the first films we saw at Gothenburg’s International Film Festival was Pojkarna (translation: “The Boys”) – a Swedish movie about three young girls who are regularly assaulted at school because of their gender and being ‘too close’ with one another. They stumble across a weird, drippy flower which, when tasted, turns them into boys. The friends go back to the school drinking hangout where they are instantly befriended by some dodgy-ass dudes who invite them to smoke weed, drink beer and steal stuff.

Much drama later, the trio has basically fallen apart after a weird love triangle thing and some horrible violence. One of the girls lights the greenhouse on fire and another kills themselves after not being able to come to terms with being transgender in a small town.

It’s not realistic and it’s not profound. It’s gratuitous. It simplifies without enlightening and, speaking from just my own experience, it traumatises.

I don’t really know what the message was, apart from something to do with ‘life’s really hard for girls and even harder for trans folk and nobody understands and bad experiences tear up friendship groups and boys are criminals’. Which, really, isn’t particularly useful.

It didn’t help that we sat in the second row, but I left the theatre hyperventilating through heaving sobs. I felt like I’d been assaulted. It was too loud and too violent and too pointless. I’ll put my hand up here and admit I’ve been feeling a bit stressed out lately and that I didn’t witness anyone else reacting so strongly to the film, but that isn’t really the point. For anyone who’s experienced trauma in their life, films like that one can be bloody terrifying.

After Pojkarna, the films got a less violent and better filmed. We saw Room, which deserves every nomination it’s received so far for its sensitive and subtle portrayal of a woman and her son trapped in a garden shed by her rapist abductor. It’s a hell of a premise, showing the ways the two survivors comfort one another and keep each other from complete despair, and their rehabilitation into real life after their escape.

The assault scenes are filmed cleverly and kindly from around corners, behind doors, and giving only enough information to know what’s going on without causing members of the audience massive panic attacks. Thanks guys.

Every interaction is necessary, important and realistic, and the balance between depressing and hopeful is enough to leave you thoughtful, rather than a blubbering mess out in the snow.

Birgitta (Felix’s grandmother) and I watched a couple of sessions of short films (two of which Felix’s sister cast for and which were the pick of them) which had many of the same problems as Pojkarna. The plots were bleak and disturbing and usually left us looking at one another sideways, trying to guess what the message was.

A girl is sick of her drunken mother ignoring the newborn so she puts it on a tram and lets it ride away to the depot, alone.

A distorted cartoon depiction of a man who can’t sleep properly is groped while he’s unconscious by a chain-smoking ‘sleep counselor’.

A woman tries to surprise her husband with a birthday party but instead witnesses him trying to force himself on their daughter’s preteen friend.

A pack of super drunk Swedish teenagers pass out and vomit at their family’s summer house during midsommar.

A woman tries to talk to her psychosis-suffering sister but she and her equally unwell friends are too out-of-it to pay attention and the girl cries a lot and then leaves. It is called Galningarna (translation: The Maniacs).

Everywhere there is pointless misery and trauma dressed up as ‘edgy’ and ‘pushing boundaries’.

There are plenty of brilliant and thought-provoking films out there, but for awhile at least, I’m going to watch them from the comfort of my loungeroom where I can press pause or look out the window when things start getting too messed up. What’s the point of paying $15 to be stuck in a dark room for two hours with no beer and a bunch of crying, that’s what I’d like to know.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

Stay tuned for: whoa, we’re coming home soon! Some sort of list of stuff I’ll probably miss about Sweden but also exciting things I’m going to do in Australia like eat a meat pie and go to the beach. Also Arnotts Shapes.