Tiger Girl: Violence born of fear of the void
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2017: Jakob Lass has delighted audiences in Berlin with a film packed with fight scenes, some spectacular showpieces and a pitiful blonde heroine emboldened by her uniform
Although one of 2016’s gems, the astonishing Raw [+see also:
interview: Julia Ducournau
film profile], is just about to open in France, its “spunkiest” actress, Ella Rumpf, is in Berlin for the premiere of Tiger Girl [+see also:
film profile]. The latest film from German filmmaker Jakob Lass (director ofLove Steaks [+see also:
film profile], which won the Max Ophüls prize in 2014) is screening in the Panorama Special section of the Berlin International Film Festival, and is scheduled for release in Germany on 6 April, distributed by Constantin. The Tiger Girl of the title is Rumpf, and it is she who appears on the promo poster for the film. She’s a ninja, baseball bat-wielding samurai avenger and even a character from a western (the one who wins the duel at the end) all rolled into one — an unadulterated action-flick heroine of the kind we all want to be, and a girl whom nobody would dare cross.
Margarete (Maria Dragus), who we know nothing about other than the fact that she is training as a private security guard having failed her police entrance exams, runs into Rumpf’s character for the first time while trying to stay out of her way. She is awe-struck by this gang-leader who appears from nowhere behind an adjacent vehicle, destroying the rear-view mirror in one solid kick, Fight Club-style, accompanied by the thunderous sound effects common to each of the film’s many brawls, before coolly indicating to Maggie (aka Vanilla, on account of her fair hair and blue eyes) that she now has space to reverse.
After various appearances from Tiger (a little otherworldly, always thrilling for their sense of freedom and street-smarts), who saves her twice from the advances of overly persistent men, Maggie is caught up in her world. Shy, or at least lacking a distinctive personality of her own, she happily allows herself to be swept away by the influence of our favourite miscreant, who lives in a van with a gang of street kids, before going out on a limb for the very first time. She supplies Tiger with a uniform so that together, night and day, they can patrol their own fiefdom where they set the rules, arresting people to steal their money or merely to laugh at their conformity. Little by little, Maggie’s taste for violence grows, just like her defiance in the classroom. The reason for this sudden thirst for aggression, tinged with sadism, is never quite made clear — although it seems that she cannot explain it herself.
If Tiger doesn’t seem at all amused by these “funny games”, it’s because in her case, rebellion and aggression are a response to her vulnerable situation and the real exigencies of her life. Vanilla’s actions, on the other hand, are purely gratuitous, and her violent behaviour is not fuelled (unlike in the plot of Oren Moverman’s unpalatable The Dinner, selected for the official competition) by things she has seen on the internet. Nor can this film be compared with Haneke’s, who in Funny Games rejected every opportunity to explain why his characters got so much pleasure from tormenting others. Vanilla is completely insipid in her actions, a vacuous character quite willing to follow any course. At the beginning of the film, when she says that she wants to work in security “to help people”, she is merely echoing something she once heard said by somebody else. For this young woman, who has no family or friends that we know of, violence is born from the call of the void: the kind of need to prove one’s own existence that afflicts the soldiers of totalitarian regimes, those sinister uniformed puppets who, in seeking to affirm their own importance, do nothing but further entrench their obscurity. It is no coincidence that the former police colleague who crosses this unremarkable girl’s path on several occasions can never remember her name. Nor is it a coincidence that it is not Vanilla herself who is the poster-girl for this film.
(Translated from French)