The world had to take its time before two masterpieces were able to evolve – a film and a girl. At least a century ago a young girl still existed purely as a form of other people, the child of female gender or the beginning of a woman, a ‘young woman’. But it is futile to look for a young girl in biological and social gender because it comes in more as an unimagined autonomy of becoming than as a consequence of the evolution or other histories. With her thesis “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir hid the young girl inside the word ‘become’ and attributed her with constant movement. Indeed, in the manner of existence a young girl is closest to film: all-moving, an inexhaustible carrier of a load on her way from a child to a woman. This tandem of a young girl and a film formed an alliance also in the art of the Serbian director Jelena Gavrilović. Her short films bear witness to motions, moving impressions of shifts, changes, and rituals that surface during girlhood.
In the short Wings and Things (which was screened at last year’s FeKK but is not part of this year’s selection) the camera follows Mia at the moment when the society starts interrupting her secret world of wonders. She introduces herself as an alien, runs around the forest, and carefully approaches the symbols of society. By chasing fireflies, she clings to her childish contemplation of magic, while also noticing her insecure non-existence in the world of social imperatives. The wondrousness, wrapped inside the fireflies of Wings and Things, starts to dissolve in Something Sweet. The child ultimately melts into a young girl and takes its altered role into the world, socialising it. The protagonist Ena manoeuvres among the hierarchies of relationship obligations. She has to handle verbal fights with friends or thunderous debates of adult women. In all situations, Ena is looking for something sweet but she has neither her parents’ permission nor her own money. She feels closest to sweetness when she touches her friend’s hand. This action introduces one of the main film topics of Jelena Gavrilović, who poetises a young girl’s toil in relations with boys with her refined sense for rationing the details. She focuses on all the effort that accumulates in the ceremonial preparations aimed at a boy’s attention: from the right choice of lipstick to the carefully selected manner in which the hair will fall on the shoulders.
The director weaves the elements of romance that permeate sex and getting over through the triform short. In the film I Am Not Your Friend an elementary schoolgirl is discovering excitement via her older sister, in Boys, Where Are You, a manifesto of deflowering, we follow a girl right before, between, and after her first sex, while the melancholic Nobody Here starts postcoitally and unfolds the layer of embarrassment and self-degrading routines that soak through the girlhood in the plea for boys’ attention. Gavrilović’ heroines are infatuated, nobly defeated, curt, broken-hearted, obsessed with boys, chain smokers, quick to forgive; heroines who sunbathe, shave, make-up, giggle and sob, repeat the word love as if that might help, spread their arms as wings; who are in the forest, on the edge of recognition, on the phone with friends, in the middle of Belgrade blocks of flats, sometimes even accompanied by Rihanna’s Diamonds. Just as in Bande de filles of the French director Céline Sciamma.
Until suddenly sitting still at the end of summer, fitted with all the anxieties that have heaped up in their becoming, they inhale the cigarette smoke, and in the reflection of adults behold their arrival at the finish line. With Many Things to Come plays with all the layers that cover the young girl with its version of a new woman. At a family gathering, the protagonist Jovana is faced with her new reality when the helplessness of three generations of women meets: that of her grandma, mother, and hers. Through their gradually intensified fight for emotional emancipation and financial independence, it becomes clear that their girlhood was a plain of social changes. The acknowledgement of girlhood as the motor of society was always connected with the fight for freedom. It is no coincidence that Louisa May Alcott, the author of the novel Little women and one of the first authors of literature on young girls, was also a suffragette, abolitionist, and a fighter for the right to vote. Gavrilović follows her efforts, however, keeping in mind also the revolutionary charge of boyhood.
Girls are also looking at us in her music videos, which we will see (along with a selection of her shorts) at this year’s FeKK. They most significantly do so in the song Worried Mind by the Belgrade indie folk band Stray Dogg, in which during the verse about silence that curses and screams, Gavrilović fills the screen with a group of silent girls. To paraphrase the American poet Olivia Gatwood: “Young girls are those who teach us how to scream.”