You may remember director Jakob Lass from the buzz surrounding his 2013 indie hit, Love Steaks – the film that initiated the director’s practice of what he himself refers to as the FOGMA Manifesto. It’s a technique of filmmaking that gives a definite wink to the Danish film renaissance of Dogme 95, complete with mostly improvised scenes and immersive environments, giving the film an air of utmost authenticity. And what Lass achieved in Love Steaks he brings to the table once more in this year’s Tiger Girl.
Maggy (Maria-Victoria Dragus) has just been discharged from the police academy after failing one of the physical exams (a comical attempt to jump a gymnastics horse), and, through what seems like serendipity, repeatedly encounters Tiger (Ella Rumpf), a rebellious young woman who, for whatever reason, appears to have taken a strange interest in Maggy’s mundane life. Tiger keeps popping up when Maggy gets herself into troubled situations, offering a solution to her problems in the form of a baseball bat. The two become fast friends, and embark on a journey full of snark, ridicule, and juvenile delinquency.
What’s important about Maggy at the beginning of the story is she has ambition. She may be subjectively boring (Tiger actually gives her the nickname “Vanilla”), but she does have enough gumption to dismiss any naysayers. She defends herself against Tiger’s crustpunk flatmates by saying she wants to be a cop so that she can help people – something that sets her up to be a noble (possibly righteous, but flawed) character. Tiger is presented as the opposite in that she is more driven by punk idealism, bringing chaos and destruction everywhere she goes. The dynamic between the two girls is intensified when it becomes clear that their contrasting outlooks are feeding off of each other; Maggy becomes less mousy and exhibits more and more confidence as the film progresses, leading her story in a way that’s not very expected (really, both of their story arcs are pretty unexpected). However, as Maggy’s arc is both upsetting and unsettling, Tiger experiences a blunt, almost epiphanous moment that breaks through her tough punk exterior, showing a thoughtful tenderness to her character. It’s always cool when a male filmmaker seems to get the nuances and complexities of female characters not only right, but presents them in such a way that their flaws make them neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic – Tiger and Vanilla simply just are in this story. It gives more of an impression that Lass is attempting to exemplify empathy and relatability, which is entirely appreciated in a film which could potentially be written off as just another trendy, cursory feminist endeavor.
In what might be considered a trope, Tiger Girl is filmed documentary-style, but with just enough panache in its cuts and edits to abate any cries of played-out cinéma vérité. Further, Lass moves the focus of the story between the two girls with such fluidity that the viewer has no trouble wondering who the protagonist is, because it’s clear that they both are (however in their own ways). Also worth noting is the score by German composer Golo Schultz (whose work was also featured in Love Steaks), a dynamic arrangement of synths and beats which captures the lonely, desperate (yet somehow warm?) spirits of the two complex young women. This film is indeed about something: about how anarchy seems fun, but can in reality corrupt a person. During the girls’ worst moments, the scenes give an emotional element not unlike the unease felt while watching Alex DeLarge and his pals in A Clockwork Orange. It’s refreshing, though, that Tiger Girl never possesses an ounce of nihilism; in fact, even though the ending is somewhat abrupt and albeit a bit easy, there’s a vigor in it that leaves the viewer thinking maybe the girls might end up getting their lives together. When one is expecting a bit of the old ultraviolence, sure, Tiger Girl’s finale can look comparatively glib, but it’s arguable that’s what makes the film more remarkable. Tiger Girl is, indeed, an inspired piece of cinema full of resonate moments that may be challenging to some, but ultimately provides a not-often-seen perspective on what it means to be free.