Sweden | Germany 2015
Opening September 24, 2015
Directed by: Sanna Lenken
Writing credits: Sanna Lenken
Principle actors: Rebecka Josephson, Amy Deasismont, Annika Hallin, Henrik Norlén, Maxim Mehmet
The 12-year-old Stella is in love with 35-year-old Jakob, her ice skating teacher. It’s her secrete. The family, as well as the trainer, hardly notice her. It is her talented and beautiful big sister Katja who is the star on the ice rink and getting all the attention. Stella wants to be like her. But Katja has little time for her little sister, concentrating on school work and her excessive training for the upcoming competition. Plump little Stella is often left on her own, just watching her big sister. When she discovers that Katja has an eating disorder she gets worried and wants to talk to their parents. Katja succeeds keeping it a secret by putting Stella under pressure. For Stella this new secrete is a much heavier burden than how to get near her “great love“ Jakob.
The Swedish director Sanna Lenken shows the underlying sisterly love, but also the distress. It is almost unbearable to watch the little girl struggling to keep their secret (excellently played by Rebecka Josephson). Tension is growing. Eventually, the parents are forced to realize the problem. You painfully feel their frustration and incompetence in dealing with this serious situation.
Sanna Lenken had drawn on her own experience and the subject of anorexia is handled not only very sensitively but also with much insight and empathy. The result is a very honest film about the insecurities and fears of young girls growing into womanhood. At the same time it also conveys the very special - and often complicated - emotional bond between sisters. It is a very brave film and well worth seeing. First screened during the 65th Berlinale it was awarded the Crystal Bear for best film by the Children’s Jury Generation KPlus. ( )
Stella, rather unfortunately titled My Skinny Sister for the international market, is a warmly authentic story about growing up. This first feature film by director Sanna Lenken describes with humor, love, and grace the toll that an eating disorder can take on a family. Katja, in her late teens, is an all-round winner at life. Beautiful, an excellent student, and a champion ice skater, she’s beloved by everyone. Her naturally proud parents reward her with lovely clothes and talk endlessly about her successes. But Katja’s biggest fan is her kid sister Stella. Several years younger, ungainly, and just on the brink of puberty, Stella tries to emulate Katja, tagging along on jogs and taking ice skating lessons, too. Stella writes secret love poems (in English!) to Jacob, the skating coach who’s unfortunately almost four times her age. She does regular girl stuff, hanging around with her school friend, eating chips, and watching TV. They practice making out (with vegetables), in case they ever have the chance to really kiss somebody.
Katja and Stella have always been buddies, spending time together and sharing secrets. But something seems wrong. Katja is exercising all the time, but she hardly eats anything. At Stella’s birthday dinner out, she finds Katja throwing up in the ladies’ room. Katja starts getting crazier; she screams at her sister, faints on the ice, and refuses to eat with the family. When Stella catches her snarfing down potato chips from the trash bin one night, Katja warns her to keep quiet. If she tells anyone, she’ll expose Stella’s love poems, which would mortify her more than death. So Stella keeps her worries to herself.
Soon, the girls’ well-meaning but distracted parents discover Katja’s problem. They worriedly plan a visit to their country cabin, hoping to remove Katja from her stress factors and tease her into eating healthful meals. But in a harrowing family meltdown, their efforts blow up in their face.
The two young lead actresses could not have been more perfectly cast. Rebecka Josephson is 11 and was discovered just a month before shooting began. She’s beautifully down-to-earth as Stella, a role that calls for her to be on camera constantly. Rebecka has the soft brown eyes and natural presence of her grandfather, Swedish screen legend Erland Josephson.
Amy Deasismont, who plays Katja, really is this beautiful and talented. Better known in Sweden as the pop star Amy Diamond, she not only has a thriving recording career, but started figure skating at age six and won multiple gold medals. It was a stroke of genius to cast popular Amy as popular Katja in a film designed to get girls talking about appearance, teen stress, and eating disorders.
Director Sanna Lenken was born in Göteborg and studied film directing at the Dramatiska Institutet in Stockholm and the European Film College in Ebeltoft, Denmark. Sanna’s own experience with an eating disorder led her to tackle the subject previously in her short film Eating Lunch, which was nominated for a Guldbagge Award and screened at Tribeca in 2013.
Stella premiered at the Göteborg International Film Festival in January and won the audience award for Best Nordic Film. In February, it had its international premiere at the Berlinale, where it picked up the Crystal Bear for Best Film from the Generation Kplus children’s jury, as well a special mention from the International Jury. (Brenda Benthien)
See review and interview with Sanna Lenken under www.awchamburg.org, Berlinale 2015.