The Girl

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RED-HAIRED AND BLUE Engstrm frets over the perils of solo living.

Filmgoers with abandonment issues should steer clear of Fredrik Edfeldt's drama about a ten-year-old (Engstrm) left all by her lonesome; the film's sense of being deserted is so keenly drawn that PTSD panic attacks are virtually assured. Told that she won't be accompanying her missionary parents to Africa as planned, the freckle-faced heroine (she's never referred to by name) is put under the last-minute care of a flaky aunt (Magnusson-Norling).

Filmgoers with abandonment issues should steer clear of Fredrik Edfeldt's drama about a ten-year-old (Engstrm) left all by her lonesome; the film's sense of being deserted is so keenly drawn that PTSD panic attacks are virtually assured. Told that she won't be accompanying her missionary parents to Africa as planned, the freckle-faced heroine (she's never referred to by name) is put under the last-minute care of a flaky aunt (Magnusson-Norling). The relative soon cuts out as well---her "be right back" couldn't sound phonier---so our guardianless protagonist whiles away afternoons by listening to sex-obsessed older girls dish and wandering through the countryside. As the weeks roll on, the youngster becomes grimier and the situation seems likely to turn grimmer. Fate, thankfully, has other things in store.

Movies about children fending for themselves are predicated on pushing prepubescent despair into viewers' faces, which only makes this Swedish film's graceful mixture of terror and transcendental girl power that much more impressive. For all of the equating of grown-ups with ugliness (even her kindly paternal neighbor isn't above being predatory), Edfeldt and his extraordinary lead actor balance the scales by presenting this tragedy as a test of strength. By the film's end, a climactic glance into a mirror---and at us---isn't an indictment. It's a look of pure personal pride.---David Fear

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