Julie Ducournau's debut feature Raw straight shook the genre cinema scene when it hit a couple years ago. The film used escalating genre elements in an otherwise realistic world, telling a coming-of-age story all the more visceral for their inclusion. It was heartfelt, emotionally authentic, and totally bananas, all in the right proportions.
Which is to say that Lisa Brühlmann's Blue My Mind has a tough comparison to live up to. They're both debuts by female directors; both female coming-of-and stories; both films that touch on genre elements. Not that any film should be judged comparatively, of course, but this is how the mind works.
Blue My Mind charts a brief period in the life of 15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler), an innocent Swiss girl recently transferred to a new school. Mia begins the movie with a host of neuroses already in place. She's awkward around her peers, struggling to make friends; gets swayed easily by peer pressure, falling in with the proverbial “wrong crowd”; suspects herself as being adopted. In short, she's a pretty ordinary teenager - but as always, her teenage problems intensify when her body begins to change.
This is no typical tale of adolescence, though. In addition to getting her first period and first rumblings of sexual desire, Mia finds her body undergoing other, less conventional changes. Her toes begin to web together. She starts craving raw fish, getting her fix from her mother's fish tank or school dissection projects. Suddenly, she can swim better than ever. Like with werewolf and zombie stories, her final form is predictable from early on, for anyone versed in genre traditions. But Brühlmann is less interested in mystery than in finding an emotional truth through Mia's self-discovery.
To Mia, her transformation and sexual maturation are part of the same body-horror package, one as disturbing as the other. As the story advances, she tries increasingly desperate methods of resisting the changes - and of coping with them. An attempt at self-surgery on her toes escalates to more extreme self-harm. A first drink of alcohol escalates to heavy substance abuse. Most distressingly, early flirtations with sexuality escalate to a harrowing sequence of group sexual abuse. Mia's pain leads to poor choices that cause more pain, made unilaterally and often directly in opposition to authority figures or better instincts. Such is the cycle of adolescent decision-making.
Blue My Mind follows in Raw's footsteps not just in content, but in its unexpected moments of beauty and emotion. Wedler's performance is raw and naturalistic in a film that eventually becomes rather non-naturalistic. Through her performance, we feel Mia's frustrations, curiosities, and desires, understanding her even as she makes choices that we might not. Gabriel Lobos’ beautiful, dreamy, and sometimes off-putting cinematography works in tandem with Wedler's acting and Brühlmann's direction, drawing the audience yet further into its protagonist's psyche. And the ensemble cast surrounding Wedler help complete the film's picture of youth - and of youths.
It would be all too easy to dismiss Blue My Mind as yet another body-horror film about a teen coming to terms with growing up. But this film is subtler than its logline would suggest. It's a film about isolation, of not belonging, of not understanding who you really are, and of desperately trying to cope by any means necessary. As such, this achingly intimate and quietly strange film will likely speak to many. It certainly spoke to me.