Große Mädchen weinen nicht [Big Girls Don’t Cry] (2002)

One of many foreign, arthouse and independent films I’ve purchased in the past year or so without much awareness of their quality, content or, really, anything else, I didn’t approach any with real expectations, other than the idea that, indeed, they would be of said varieties–each of which does have some kind of feeling, even if it’s not always completely specific. As such, I wandered into this film knowing only what the images on the front and rear covers told me, and what the tagline on the front says. I know how unreliable these things are, and avoid reading the synopses on the back so as to maintain a complete ignorance of the events to unfold before me when viewing (my favoured viewing experience).

In essence, this is a coming-of-age movie, and it makes no claims to anything else, and so of course some of it is going to be familiar. An awful lot of it, actually. This kind of movie has been done and done and done again, and you really can’t pull out an honest surprise anymore, except to those who have yet to see any of the preceding incarnations yet. Consequently, I am not even remotely surprised to discover that I felt comfortably familiar with the film as it began, two girls sharing comments about sex with each other in class. Of course, it was new to me to hear these things in German, but as the language–while one I neither speak nor understand beyond a handful of words and phrases–is one I’ve studied in the past, even that wasn’t that distracting. It was relatively distracting that they were apparently in an English class, and so seeing someone being forced to sigh and repeat their native comment in the “foreign” language of English was a little strange, being as the event has occurred numerous times in reverse in my life.

Kati (Anna Maria Mühe) and Steffi (Karoline Herfurth–apparently born exactly one month before me! hey!) are said friends, talking about the heartache I imagine we all know (if you don’t, either you are an even bigger recluse than I or the luckiest person on earth), of a love lost in high school (or its equivalent, wherever you may be), in this case to fellow classmate Yvonne Strätling (Jennifer Ulrich) Kati has lost Jochen (Conny Warmuth, who really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie). This is the first turn we see into adulthood, as the two take a sharp turn in this direction, first with this relative slow pitch, but quickly escalating as a car trip with two boys in a club leads to another club, this one stunning Steffi into violent anger when she finds her father Hans (Stefan Kurt) with another woman, Jeanette (Teresa Harder), in his lap. In a fit of rage the two leave the club and Steffi keys Jeanette’s car, kicking it until the alarm goes off. She recognizes the woman and so decides to enact an even greater revenge on her, taking this knowledge to try the immature trick of supergluing the key to her apartment. The two girls see Jeanette’s daughter Tessa (Josefine Domes) attempting to get in and Steffi hatches a more “adult”–though no less immature–plot for revenge. Now the two are finding themselves wandering into adulthood, their parents frustrated, shocked, or occasionally negligent of this change.

Sex, drugs and so on are not the focal point of this “dangerous trip into adulthood”–while Kati’s father is quietly advisory to her regarding the condoms and cigarettes he finds in her room, they both know her mother would probably have a stroke if she found them (we know this too, as we’ve seen how she reacts to Kati putting salt on the food she cooked). Both do come up, but neither is really trampled on, in that rather uncomfortably ignorant way that American films have approached it–both girls are smart enough to be protected, and thankfully the route of “hot older guy who turns out to be manipulative date rapist” is not explored, despite the presence of said “hot older guys.” This was refreshing, though some other plot points remained predictable–as I say, though, this is really unavoidable in this kind of film. They are natural progressions though, and Anna and Karoline are both quite good actresses, despite their relative youth at the time, with an interesting mix of parents–an overprotective mother who clearly fears the worst in the world for Kati, with a passive father who is trying to walk the line between them and alienate neither of them, while Steffi’s mother is strong but unaware of her husband’s affair, and her father is apparently oblivious to the damage his affair could cause, showing affection for wife and daughter not as sleazy man with a secret, but almost as if this is a second life, that it doesn’t occur to him that what he does elsewhere is indeed relevant to his home life.

Kati and Steffi are strong characters, in the sense of development, with Kati being the more mature but more naïve of the two–trusting too much in others, especially the men she takes interest in, but possessing a stronger moral compass. Steffi, quite frankly, is despicable. Her plot for revenge–without divulging details–amounts to, in her words, making Jeanette’s daughter either “feel like an idiot” or appear to be and idiot. What does her daughter have to do with it? What harm will it do to Jeanette for her daughter to feel stupid–or already be stupid and make it apparent to others? Not an awful lot of course. Naturally, Steffi is clinging to the fact that Jeanette calls her daughter “angel,” like he own father, and is projecting her anger in all the wrong ways. She is extremely selfish, lacking in any real sense of personal ethics (beyond “if I can get away with it, it’s okay”) and treating everyone around her with suspicion and mistrust, leaving them in horrible situations without a second thought. Her suspicion of course arises from the betrayal she feels from her father–mixed with an unwillingness to admit his fault in the affair, due to her close relationship with him–but the rest of it comes off as seeming as though it needs some cause, some reason for us to understand why she does these things–not because there has to be one, that people can’t be that way, but that we are missing something here, that something was lost, though Karoline’s performance carries the character through and past this, and the clever direction of writer Maria von Heland maintains an atmosphere so believable that even this question becomes moot.

The best part of all, though, was that for once it gave me the distinct impression of nostalgia for that age–not that it captured any elements of my own experience, but that it just had that visceral feeling of the actual coming-of-age so often depicted, but rarely captured emotionally.

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