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Blue My Mind
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by Jay Seaver

"Doesn't entirely dive in."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Blue My Mind" is the sort of movie where I find myself kind of impatient, waiting for a more active story to kick in, but where I am also fully aware that someone who has actually been a 15-year-old girl might look at it and say "yes, this, exactly - this is an uncannily perfect metaphor for having your body and mind suddenly changing and not feeling like you can talk to anybody about it because you've been made to feel like a monster!" It's not for me, and that's okay.

The teenager in question is Mia (Luna Wedler), new at her school and as such somewhat reserved, kind of resenting that her parents (Georg Scharegg & Regua Grauwiller) have put her in this position now. As is often the case, the first girl to talk to her (Una Rusca), is nice enough, but she's more drawn to misbehaving queen bee Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen) and her friends Nelly (Lou Haltinner) and Vivi (Yael Meier), which leads to the usual smoking, parties, cutting class, and maybe finding a connection with Gianna's boyfriend Roberto (David Oberholzer). The other girls, however, don't appear to have to deal with the thirst for salt water, or being too freaked out to tell the doctor that the changes in her body that she's really worried about are the bits of webbing starting to form between her toes.

Does it still sometimes feel like the filmmakers have this big fantastical thing in the middle of their story that they spend an hour and a half trying to avoid? Sometimes, yes, and it can be kind of frustrating. Director Lisa Brühlmann and her co-writer Dominik Locher don't necessarily need to build up some detailed mermaid mythology, but the slow doling out of hints doesn't lead to a dramatic pulling back of the curtain, either in terms of transformation or the idea that Mia is part of some larger world in addition to the mundane teenage one she's in. There's tremendous potential in this particular transformation - from the physicality of it to how knowing herself fully will require Mia to go somewhere that her friends and loved ones cannot help her - but Brühlmann often seems satisfied with the vague idea of transforming into a mythological creature as a metaphor for becoming a woman, and as long as the audience recognizes that, there's no need to get more specific.

It's fortunate that the more grounded bits still work quite well. Pull the fantasy out, and Blue My Mind remains a well-observed story of self-discovery with Mia chasing down her identity in two different directions, with the discovery that she is at the very least adopted giving her something to search for and a pointed reason to confront her parents, while her falling in with Gianna and her friends detours from "good girl falls in with a bad crowd" to "girl makes new friends and they're all exploring their limits in adroit manner. Brühlmann captures this everyday drama well enough, even if it often doesn't play as being of huge consequence. The best moments are the ones that tie back to the fantastic, from the squirm-inducing moment when Mia tries to become more "normal" with scissors to how, after starting out as the cool girl who has blossomed before her peers, Gianna eventually looks startlingly young when measuring herself against what Mia has become.

Even more fortunately, lead actresses Luna Wedler and Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen are great, making their characters impressively sympathetic even when their actions mark them as not easy to like (especially from the perspective of someone outside the target audience. Wedler is excellent at finding the intersection of Mia's impulses to pull back and lash out, as well as the combination of shame and horror that comes from the discovery of her body's strange new betrayals, and Brühlmann seldom lets her make it immediate dramatic reactions to a specific situation; this is always in her head. Holthuizen establishes Gianna as aloof and bitchy only to be able to peel it away scene by scene until a viewer realizes she'll be missed nearly as much as Mia when the movie's over. It's a stealthily impressive bit of work.

They're good enough that the movie might really be something if they had more to actually do, even if it's just a situation that needs resolving more than an actual adventure. But that's a guy in his mid-forties talking, and some young women in their teens or twenties who have seen the movie are going to know what it's getting right and wrong a heck of a lot better than me.

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originally posted: 01/26/19 01:33:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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