Blue My Mind

Switzerland (2017) Dir. Lisa Brühlmann

Being a teenager is hard. Adults don’t understand you and you don’t understand them, and other teens are quite of little help to you either. The worst part is the sense of belonging which becomes compromised the older you get for the above reasons. But what if there was a genuine reason why you don’t belong?

15 year-old Mia (Luna Wedler) is finding it hard to fit in on her first day at a new school, but instead of accepting the welcome from a nice girl, Mia targets some delinquents to be her friends. They reject her at first but after adopting their behaviour, she is accepted by wild child Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen), along with two other girls and three older boys they hang out with.

At a get together with the girls where they try autoerotic asphyxiation, Mia returns home and tries to eat the pet fish, making her sick. She puts this down to entering puberty but a few days later she notices her toes are webbed and a strange blue rash has appeared on her legs. Mia’s interest in sex grows more insistent yet she finds it hard to enjoy it, leading to further inexplicable changes to her body.

This debut feature from actress turned director Lisa Brühlmann is another entry into the slowly expanding subgenre of the metaphorical sexual awakening fable. Blue My Mind may carry a punny title that explains nothing content wise sits somewhere between other recent films on the same topic, Belgium’s Raw and Norway’s Thelma.

One might also be able to list other cinematic precedents, most likely from Europe since Scandinavian folklore shows considerable overlap from country to country. Therefore, whilst the final act reveal might have the impact Brühlmann intended, there is a chance many will have figured it out earlier thus are keen to see how Brühlmann plays it.

However, there is still the journey to this denouement, initially appearing as a standard teen coming-of-age drama where kids indulge in adult behaviour earlier than they should with little regard of the consequences. This of course, means smoking, drinking, drugs, and sex, presented her in a matter of fact way as if to say “You can’t disapprove because you probably did the same at their age”.

A conventional set up certainly, but maybe also deliberate, as if Brühlmann is making a cautionary point to teenage viewers not to be as hasty as this lot in their flirtation with adult lifestyles. Nothing is necessarily glamorised but the way Gianna and the others are portrayed as the dangerous cool kids – more glam than the other girls in trendier (and skimpier) attire – gives it a cache for the easily impressionable.

During the course of the film, the girls indulge in the usual delinquent bonding activities – shoplifting, sexual experimentation with both genders, drugs, and so on – Gianna being the biggest influence on Mia. However, in a rare twist on this trope, Mia isn’t reluctant about being initiated into this world embracing it fully without the peer pressure or desire for point scoring to improve her popularity.

This makes Mia all the more curious as she doesn’t seem to be the sort of girl looking to self-destruct but does have something she is looking for that she feel this rebellious fraternity can offer her. Whilst she throws herself into this hedonistic world – seducing an older man online to lose her virginity is one early, dangerous example – it all comes back to Mia having to retract because of the physical changes happening to her.

Elsewhere, Mia remains at odds with parents, Gabriela (Regula Grauwiller) and Michael (Georg Scharegg), who can’t see her as anything other than their little girl, whilst Mia is unable to communicate with them without displaying aggression. With the divide growing wider between them, Mia begins to wonder if she was adopted, citing a lack of photos of her mother during pregnancy or as a baby.

So many questions with very few answers and a body changing dramatically she can no longer hide it from her friends, Mia is living an existential nightmare. But what is the solution? I guess this is a case of finding different meanings in the subtext; I took it as a parable about being yourself and learning to adapt to new surrounding and situations under your town terms, and hope people will like you for you and not what they think you should be.

Of course, this could be a reductive assessment of Brühlmann’s intent; the problem is that Mia’s past and family life is the least developed aspect of the plot. The film opens with a lone child on a sea shore lost and afraid. If this is Mia was she abandoned by someone and if so, why did her parents not admit to adopting her? Hints about Mia previously seeing a therapist arrive out of the blue, serving only to imply a long standing mental concern which we eventually learn is not the case.

Unravelling the meanings won’t produce universally agreed results but what won’t be disputed is the quality of the presentation. Brühlmann artistic flights of fancy at the right moments create a sense of poetry in exploring Mia’s plight, keeping the drama straight to maintain normalcy and not distract from the impact of the fantasy elements.

As Mia, Luna Wedler delivers a compelling performance of a tricky character, one who isn’t particularly likeable but earns our concern and sympathy by the end without losing any of her edge or integrity. She conveys the horror and pain of her situation with empathy, transforming equally unpleasant teen Gianna into someone with some decency to them, courtesy of solid support from Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen.

Blue My Mind covers familiar ground and might be a little over ambitious in trying to be markedly different but does so well enough and with conviction it is hard to ignore and bodes well for Brühlmann as a director.