Festival director BRIONY KIDD blogs about Girl Asleep, which returns to Tasmania this week to screen at the Tasmanian Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival in Launceston.
Since being lucky enough to screen it as part of Stranger With My Face earlier this year, I’ve enjoyed seeing the accolades mount for the Adelaide-made Girl Asleep. Directed by Rosemary Myers, written by Matthew Whitett and adapted from their theatre show of the same name, the film’s reception paves the way for more cinematic experiments from this talented team. It might also get Australian filmmakers thinking about the “family” film from a more offbeat angle, which wouldn’t be a bad thing either. Our films are rarely at their best when filmmakers closely follow Hollywood models, not least because they can’t match them in scale or production values. Ingenuity, therefore, is the way to go. Audiences have responded to Girl Asleep‘s originality: its wit, daggy charm and exuberant production design (courtesy of Johnathon Oxlade).
Stranger With My Face primarily screens horror films directed by women. Girl Asleep is assuredly not a horror film, it’s as light and life-affirming as you’d expect of a story that features a 15-year-old girl disco dancing at her birthday party with her school friends and her parents. But it has its darker moments, especially in the conceit that the protagonist, Greta (Bethany Whitmore), enters into an imaginative dreamscape that represents her passage through adolescence. In that sense its in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland and fairytales which see children undergoing a series of trials before they can reach maturity, from Little Red Riding Hood to the Snow Queen (that story is specifically referenced here, in fact).
Much mention has been made of similarities to Wes Anderson’s style. There’s justification for it. Both Myers and Anderson use visual humour in a sophisticated, carefully formal way, both have a fondness for retro looks and almost cartoonishly stylised characters. But to make too much of this overlooks what Girl Asleep has to offer in its own right. There’s a great publicity still for the film that shows three teenage girls, looking almost like triplets they’re so similarly dressed, pouting into the camera in a way that’s “seductive” (as the glossy mags would have it) yet frankly aggressive. It shows minor characters from the story, in fact – popular girls at Greta’s (yes, “mean girls”) – but we chose to use it to promote the screening at Stranger With My Face because of how it places Girl Asleep within the traditions of dark fantasy, and for its thematic resonances. Simultaneously lush and ironic, beguiling and absurd, it underlines the mythic aspects of the story. At one point in the film we see the three girls depicted as snarling dogs, a three-headed Cerberus is implied. The journey into adulthood is many things at once, it’s true: ridiculous, wondrous, dangerous, and strange. Take your favourite tween or teenager along to see Girl Asleep.