It's the first weekend in March, and though that may mean something totally different to lion tamers and sheep herders, for us it means that we can all look forward to the Norwegian movie Turn Me On, Dammit! — about a teenage girl whose unabashed libido alienates her from friends and family — not playing in any theater except those few well-hidden art house caves in New York and Los Angeles.
I got to screen this this movie way back in mid-January (with the caveat that nothing be written about it until March) and have been looking forward ever since to the day when I could share my most profound cinematic insights — it's, like, really fucking good and if you happen to see it in your movie listings or notice it languishing in your Netflix recommendations, watch it because it's about as long as a Disney movie (75 minutes) and totally hilarious.
Dammit, directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen from a screenplay she adapted from a novel by Olaug Nissen, follows 15-year-old Alma, played wryly by Helene Bergsholm, as she tries to ward off her small town blues and slake her insatiable horniness by daydreaming about a handsome classmate (Arthur), or having expensive phone sex with a gleefully raunchy operator named Stig. While at a party with her friends, Alma ducks outside for a moment with Arthur, where he inexplicably takes his penis out of his pants and literally pokes her with it, prompting a brief "wtf" moment before Alma goes back inside and tells her friends what happened. Nobody, however, believes that the unassuming Arthur would do such a weird, primate-like thing as wave his genitals around, and Arthur himself denies Alma's story. Thus begins Alma's Scarlet Letter ostracization (she wears red in almost every scene) from her schoolmates, who, under the aegis of resident mean girl Ingrid, tease, ignore, and generally behave in a shitty adolescent way towards Alma. Even Alma's mother, baffled by phone sex bills and her daughter's proclivity for dirty magazines, betrays Alma to a neighbor by complaining that she just doesn't know how to rein in Alma's raging hormones.
If you've seen Easy A, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about Dammit's plot, but the Norwegian movie gets away with stuff that would never slide in a slick Hollywood production in which 20-somethings play teenagers who are all more than willing to trade their dignity for tidy roll-credits unions with the person who was least shitty to them during the course of the movie. In Alma's insulated world, small town politics magnify her peculiarities and push her to the very edge of a tiny Norwegian community whose residents know everything about each other, but say very little. However, rather than meekly submit to her town's ill-will, Alma rages against the boundaries that hem her in, drinking with her friend Sara — herself a misfit who writes letters to a death row inmate in Texas that she never mails and dispenses laconic aphorisms such as "All men are potentially rapists" — and wandering around alone at night. Through her alienation, Alma finds a sort of freedom from a town she's always hated, swilling booze and openly flouting town conventions. Already a "fallen woman" at 15, the filmmakers seem to suggest that Alma's ignominious stature in her community, while difficult for a kid to cope with, is merely the prefiguring of a time when Alma will finally shed her small town shackles and enter a wider world where her intelligence and sensitivity are appreciated rather than scorned.
Maybe Dammit will offer American filmmakers a blueprint for a lady sexual bildungsroman that doesn't hinge entirely on a perfectly engaging protagonist seeking and earning the acceptance of a male love interest. Then again, maybe you can only see such a flick if you're willing to put your subtitle goggles on for an hour and fifteen minutes, during which time you can marvel at how closely Norwegian words for genitals resemble their English counterparts.
Turn Me On, Dammit! [IMDB]