This film taught Judge Jennifer Malkowski that although German and American teen angst are similar, teen angst just sounds more commanding "auf Deutsch."
"There sits my love from yesterday, and I thought it was love for
The German film Sonja takes on the ambitious project of getting us inside the head of a 16-year-old girl with an emotionally unsatisfying life. Unfortunately, execution doesn't match ambition here—as it so rarely has in the history of realistic on-screen portrayals of teenage girl angst, with television series My So-Called Life being a notable exception. Rather than making us feel Sonja's emotions, the film simply shows us her everyday life, which, though unusual, is not really fascinating enough to sustain the feature.
That everyday life is characterized first by tension and disappointment in her family. Sonja lives in an apartment complex with her mother, who pries into the girl's private life and has a boyfriend Sonja doesn't like. Relations with her father are also strained, as a summer trip to see him and his new family reveals. Sonja has a boyfriend, Anton, whom she finds dull and suffocating. The one bright spot she can see in her own life is her close friendship with another girl, Julia, for whom she semi-secretly pines.
The most interesting aspect of Sonja is in this friendship, which isn't particularly satisfying as a coming-of-age lesbian story, but does manage to illuminate that blurry line between friendship and romance between young women. When it becomes clear that friends see their bond from different sides of that divide, the results can be truly painful to both parties, and Sonja touches on this complex theme. But by "touches on," I do mean to imply that the picture we get feels distinctly incomplete—as does the film itself, to some extent, at a short 75 minutes. A couple of short excerpts from Sonja's diary bring us closer to the emotional reality of the situation for her, but are ultimately not enough to make this a truly rich depiction of this kind of relationship. Viewers interested in that type of rich depiction should check out Swedish lesbian coming-of-age movie Show Me Love.
The long subplot involving Sonja's trip to visit her father feels like an interruption in her (unfinished) story with Julia, and the sexual encounter that happens in this part of the film is bafflingly imbued with the same romantic tone (largely through the music) as the yearning, erotic moments between Sonja and Julia. Though the visual style of the film is satisfying enough, the tone varies between perplexing (as above) and just too muted for this type of story. In the end, Sonja seems to suffer rather than benefit from that particularly European strategy of not having characters talk too much in order to make them seem more profound. In this case, I didn't feel like we were just scratching the surface of complex wells of thoughts and emotions, but rather that the writers had not created much beneath that surface—a failing mirrored by the slightly lazy, hands-off title of the film itself.
Video and sound are fine on this disc, though the subtitling feature is strangely cumbersome to activate. Special features include a trailer for the film and a photo gallery of 10 stills taken directly from the feature.
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