THE GIRL KING (Sweden/France/Canada/Germany/Finland 2015) ***
Directed by Maki Kaurismaki
Starring: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist
Review by Gilbert Seah
Though one might initially shrug at a costume period film on European royalty, this true story of a queen from age 6 might instead, turn heads. THE GIRL KING paints a portrait of the brilliant, extravagant Kristina of Sweden. She fights the conservative forces that are against her ideas to modernize Sweden as she begins her sexual awakening and her love for women. The film is also a Canadian co-production that went on two win two awards at the 2015 Montreal World Film Festival – for Best Actress Malin Buska in the lead role and for the most Popular Canadian First feature.
Maki Kaurismaki (Aki’s older brother) introduces certain controversial segments that question whether they actually happen. One of these is the one in which Descartes is summoned to Queen Kristina’s court to perform an incision from the brain (open surgery) where he removes what he claims is the seat of a man’s soul. It is a gruesome scene where many of the court leave and also one that will make many an audience wince.
Kaurismaki shows the two sides of Queen Kristina – her strong willed side as well as her weak one. The audience will both take her side and the side against her at different points in the film. Her romance with the countess (Canada’s own Sarah Gadon) is displayed less than a love story than Kristina’s weakness leading to her downfall.
Kaurismaki’s GIRL KING is not the first film made on the controversial Queen Kristina.
Besides several stage productions, the most famous was Greta Garbo’s portrayal in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1933 classic QUEEN CHRISTINA which totally ignored her gay romance with her lady-in-waiting. Given the modernity and freedom of today’s times, THE GIRL KING is the most open in the gay treatment of the material, including a scene with a roll in the bed.
But Kaurismaki’s film surprisingly lacks real drama, despite many dramatic confrontations the best being the one between Kristina and her mother. But most of the film often feels like history lesson, bumped up a bit with emotions that do not affect the audience.
During the Coronation speech when Queen Kristina is opposed after she quotes French philosopher Rene Descartes and imposes peace for the sake of learning, her Counsellor stands up and declares ; “This is Queen Kristina, and when she speaks, she commands!” But she is often opposed by the court and does not always get her way. The end of the film has titles that heard her victory in achieving academia for Sweden, tough how this come about is not explained. The only thing she did was to bring philosopher Descartes to her court.
THE GIRL KING is one of Kaurismaki’s most dramatic features. He as a credit of 35 directorial films. His other films have been slight and mostly forgettable. Though not in any means the best 10 films of the year, THE GIRL KING is a worthy effort and will well be remembered as one of Maki Kaurismaki’s better films.
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