Alma, a jonquil-thin blonde with a passing resemblance to Taylor Swift, is 15 and sprouting in the Norwegian town of Skoddeheimen, where there's one bus stop and many, many sheep. She lives with her single mother in a state of chronic frustration, sexual and social.
Awash in hormones, Alma has two outlets: sexual fantasy and pleasuring herself. Turn Me On, Dammit!, the disarming and droll first feature from documentary filmmaker Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, is that rare thing, a movie that says shame on sexual shame and double shame on the double standard.
An affectionate chronicle of Alma's predicament, the film is both sexy and wholesome. Yes, it offers a few frontal flashes. And yes, it is the opposite of prurient because Jacobsen encourages the audience to identify with Alma rather than to objectify her. I would submit this movie as Exhibit A in an argument that there is a difference when a woman is behind the camera.
When first we meet Alma (Helene Bergsholm, a nonprofessional actress), she's on the kitchen floor writhing as a phone-sex worker cheers her on. Her mother's return from the turnip factory interrupts Alma's homework break.
The object of Alma's fantasies is Artur (Matias Myren), a shy, handsome schoolmate and guitarist for the church choir. In her daydreams, Artur climbs through her bedroom window, covers her with kisses, and deflowers her. In reality, he approaches her outside the Youth Center dance, and lewdly brushes against her thigh. When she asks her friends what this means, Artur denies it happened and Alma is stigmatized.
Rather than accept the lesson that when a boy is horny he's a red-blooded boy and when a girl merely wonders about a boy's horniness she's a scarlet woman, Alma shrugs it off and gets on with her life. If her friends and neighbors brand her as a sex fiend, so be it.
Jacobsen maintains a consistently sunny tone as she shows the absurdity of this double standard - and as Alma proceeds to deal not only with social isolation, but also with the problem of reimbursing her mother for the exorbitant phone-sex charges.
Like Alma's narration, for the most part Jacobsen's filmmaking style is deadpan, all the better to see the inherent humor of Alma's situation. To suggest the texture of Alma's fantasies, however, Jacobsen opts for high-key lighting. To give exposition of activities where Alma herself is not present, Jacobsen uses black-and-white stills to create a documentary feel.
Throughout, Bergsholm's poker-faced performance creates the effect that we are watching the misadventures of an actual teenager. It may be a slight comedy but Turn Me On, Dammit! is enormously entertaining.
Turn Me On, Dammit! *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen. With Helene Bergsholm and Matias Myren. In Norwegian with subtitles. Distributed by New Yorker Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 16 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (profanity, brief nudity, sexual candor, treated with humor, suitable for those ages 15 and older).
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.