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Liberating young sexuality on screen

Christina Rosendahl’s first feature film Triple Dare sold more tickets than Superman when released in 2006. But the reviewers have been remarkably quiet about the film’s liberating view of a young girl's budding sexuality: Sofia is the first lesbian teenager gently portrayed in Danish film.


FORUM/21.9.2006 Three friends, Rebekka, Claudia and Sofie, are all struggling with a problem many 16-year-olds will recognise: in contemporary Denmark, where Confirmation – the traditional coming-of-age threshold – has lost its significance, how do you know when childhood is over and you have entered the adult world?

After a lesson about African rites of passage, Rebekka has an idea to remedy their confusion. She invents a more up-to-date ritual with no painful tattoos involved. She proposes that the three girls should take it in turns daring one another to action in the sexual domain – make some guy think you’re a hooker, make out with the really clammy dork at school, and so on.

As the film progresses it is obvious that becoming an adult is not quite so simple and straightforward a matter, but the girls nonetheless mature, each in her own way. In Sofie’s case it is by acknowledging that she is lesbian, and realising that this is no great disaster.

Butterflies on screen
To observant viewers it comes as no surprise when Sofie’s story takes a turn for the queer. It has been hinted at early on, when she says that she has “never felt like that for a guy” – a remark that escapes the attention of heterosexual Rebekka. The film also uses subtle cinematic techniques; the first time we see Sofie and the object of her desire, Katrine, together, for example, the roller-coaster ride of the camera reflects the butterflies in Sofie’s stomach.

When she is later dared to tongue kiss a girl it is quite clear that there is more at stake for Sofie than for her friends, who point blank overrule her protests. She therefore hesitatingly approaches Katrine, two years her senior, who fortunately has nothing against helping Sofie through this particular rite of passage.

Their fulfilment of the dare is the most sensual scene in the entire film, and it is handled with exceptional ease. No dissolving techniques or strangely unmotivated panning away from walls to ceilings censure their kissing. Quite the contrary, we linger with the couple, and Sofie’s love life is thereby afforded exactly the same status as that of her heterosexual friends.

This point is reinforced when Sofie’s initial encounter with Katrine is later echoed in a scene between Rebekka and Adam, a young man two years her senior. The age difference, the awkward electric silence broken by clumsy dodging of the issue, even the positioning of the characters is identical. The inference is absolutely clear: Sofie and Rebekka are going through the same process, and it is a process in which gender is of no importance.

A universal story of self-awareness
Unfortunately, it is not quite so clear to Sofie. She gets cold feet and lies to Claudia and Rebekka, saying that she failed the challenge. This surprises them somewhat because they had witnessed Sofie’s successful completion of the ritual on a TV monitor and were ready to congratulate her, but Sofie resolutely insists on being given a new task.

What she has had confirmed about herself is still too overwhelming, but it is nonetheless not so awful that she can’t happily come to terms with it before the final credits roll. “Tell someone you love him,” is Sofie’s second dare, and this turns into another example of how naturally the film Triple Dare treats the gay and straight storylines as equals: ‘him’ is replaced by ‘her’ and leads to a final exchange with Katrine.

Sofie’s declaration of love might not be reciprocated by her chosen one, who is, after all, two years’ her senior, but she shows she is a winner in the love stakes anyway when she remarks perceptively that: “Well, I can still love you, can’t I!” And the most pessimistic viewer can but be disarmed by the irresistible smile of relief on Sofie’s face throughout the rest of the film – and she is the character to develop the most.

Her story becomes a universal story about finding one’s true self, empowered by the fact that the film never makes ‘being gay’ an issue in itself. The camera treats gay and straight love exactly alike – there’s a Katrine at hand and so Rebekka and Claudia accept Sofie as she is without further ado. Utopian, perhaps, but totally in keeping with the light comedy genre – and that, in itself, is both liberating and unusual.

Lukewarm reviews
There is a tendency for reviewers to give an extra patriotic star to Danish films, and particularly for a director’s first feature, but Triple Dare has been given quite a rough ride. Some of the criticism is justified, but by no means all.

It seems inappropriate when the Danish newspaper Politiken holds aloft the grim ‘white-trash’ teen-flic film Life Hits [Råzone, by director Christian E. Christiansen. Eds.] and calls Triple Dare shallow and lacking seriousness. Sex looms larger than social factors in the world inhabited by Rebekka, Sofie and Claudia, but why should their middle-class reality be less real than a hard life on the streets? Nor is it fair to accuse Triple Dare's occasionally music-video-esque visual style of being modish superficiality.

The film is uncompromising in its focus on a target group typically used to a far faster pace than that of the classic Danish teen film tradition. In relation to poetic, sensitive films such as The Tree of Knowledge [Kundskabens træ by director Nils Malmros. Eds.] and The Boy Who Walked Backwards [Drengen som gik baglæns by director Thomas Vinterberg. Eds.], Triple Dare is undeniably a flashy genre film with a resounding BUT: ultimately, it takes its main characters seriously, and in that it is fundamentally different to American teen films à la American Pie and to our home-grown Danish Anja og Viktor [Anja and Victor by director Charlotte Sachs Bostrup. Eds.] series.

The male gaze
What is most perplexing, however, is that practically no one apart from Panbladet [the magazine of the National Danish Association of Gays and Lesbians. Eds.] has identified Sofie as a pioneer in the annals of Danish cinema history – and that includes Christina Rosendahl herself in the interviews she gave when the film opened.

It would be great to think that this was because lesbians are just such a natural part of every Dane’s world picture that no one sees any reason to draw attention to Sofie, but I incline towards a less encouraging explanation.

We get a hint from the review in Alt for damerne [a Danish women’s weekly magazine. Eds.], illustrated by a still of Sofie and Katrine in the ‘dare’ scene, with the following caption: “At a pre-screening, this scene was given top marks by the male members of the audience. Now why might that be?” Despite its female target readership, this women’s magazine chooses to see Sofie in a male, heterosexual perspective, and in that light she is anything but a progressive figure. Her love life is reduced to a spectator sport with appeal to men.

This analysis is of course a viable option, but it is also unimaginative because it cancels out the existence of the teenage girls in the cinema audience who are other than straight. Unimaginativeness stretches far beyond the universe inhabited by Alt for damerne – I can actually quote from the film’s gala opening in Dagmar Cinema: “It’s mostly a girls’ film, but then there’s the dare scene for the guys,” philosophised a young woman as she sipped her champagne, despite her really rather direct affiliation with Sofie and Katrine.

Big audience
Fortunately not everyone reads the reviews, and Triple Dare has been a hit where it counts most: with the nearly 30,000 young people who bought tickets during its opening weekend – enough to knock the new Superman film from the top spot and that, in itself, makes the film a landmark.

The film also offers a much needed role model for the teenage girls who have escaped the imagination of Alt for damerne, and it gives everyone else a fundamentally positive message about sexual diversity – together these factors make Triple Dare one of the best Danish films for young people to have been produced in years. 

Tranlation: Gaye Kynoch


Read about director Christina Rosendahl

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