Psychobitch (2019)

Psychobitch first publsihed by EyeForFilm at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2019

There is a scene near the beginning of Psychobitch when we see Marius (Jonas Tildemann) – one year away from entering high school, but praised by father and teachers for his “adult” maturity – casually weeing over some pooh that has got stuck to the inner side of a toilet bowl, and then in a panic hand-wiping the pooh away to conceal it as another school pupil knocks on the door. The scene encapsulates the character of a “good boy” desperate not to be seen associated with any trace of sordid, impure humanity – yet writer/director Martin Lund’s willingness to show both urine and faeces (with at least the latter still something of a cinematic taboo) suggests that he is far less squeamish than his protagonist probably would be about having his film’s clean, genteel surfaces ruffled with a congealed splat of messiness. 

The film’s other main character, new girl Frida (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne), embodies such messiness. The ‘psychobitch’ of the title and a mercurial loner who has previously attempted suicide, Frida breaks all the rules, brings the chaos and gives no fucks, getting herself into constant trouble at school. When Marius is paired with Frida in a study group, an attraction of opposites seems inevitable, even if, as is the way with film romances, there will be plenty of obstacles along the way – not least Marius’ prior engagement with popular girl Lea (Saara Sipila-Kristofferson) and his own cowardly lack of integrity. Frida may, as Marius suggests, “want to be that mysterious girl who no one understands”, she may even be – whisper it – a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but her wild-child antics expose suffocating conformity and narrow horizons in small-town Norway. Once Marius has learnt (literally, but also metaphorically) to dance to a different beat, he may never again be able to fall back into step with the local order. 

In broad outline, this is a fairly conventional teen romance, even reaching its climax in a classic (though localised) ‘prom scene’ at the school’s formal dance – but one of the things that makes Psychobitch stand out is how flawed both its principals are. Frida really does take things too far, and her acts of rebellion do appear in part to be attention-seeking – while, after following all the details of Marius’ abominably selfish behaviour, viewers will find it hard to applaud when the adolescent gets his happy ending (two, really). Still, these character flaws, like that pooh in the toilet, are all part of the picture, in a film that celebrates imperfection in an age that increasingly, impossibly demands perfection.

© Anton Bitel