Opening 14 Sep 2017
In 1912, in a small town in Norway, a woman gives birth to a baby girl. The midwife and doctor exchange surprised looks; the mother glimpses her infant, and dies moments later. Nasty gossip in town suggests she died from the shock of seeing her baby covered head-to-toe in hair. Her father Gustav (Lassgård), grieving the death of his wife and devastated by his daughter’s strange appearance, refuses to hold her, and days pass before she is even given a name. And so begins the life of Eva (played by three actresses as she ages, Lindseth Løkka, Thomine Storm, and Ursin-Holm), the Lion Woman of the title. Gustav engages a local young woman, Hannah (Tveterås), to care for the baby, instructing her to keep Eva indoors and away from inquisitive neighbors who want to catch a glance of the hairy child. Eva’s childhood is spent in isolation in her apartment, which is ironically positioned above the town’s train station, where Gustav, as the station master, is one of the most visible men in town.
As Eva grows up, she and Hannah chafe against Gustav’s restrictions, and slowly Eva gains contact with the outside world. Her contact with the villagers – and traveling performers from farther afield – show her how curious and cruel people can be when faced with something unknown. She’s gawked at and bullied, and for the most part ostracized. Luckily Hannah gives her the affection Gustav can’t bring himself to bestow upon his daughter. In moments of exasperation, Gustav cruelly locks Eva in a cupboard in their apartment, where fantastical images of floating numbers and equations fly through the dark confines, depicting Eva’s attempt to keep herself sane by thinking mathematically. These scenes foreshadow the path that will lead Eva to adulthood, but the movie takes her through plenty of twists and turns and unsavory encounters – with the medical community and other “freaks”– as well as interactions with compassionate individuals who see her for more than her unusual exterior. Journeys have utmost significance within the movie as they allow Eva to connect to new people and have new experiences, as well as revealing a more tender aspect of her relationship with her father.
Das Löwenmädchen is often slow feeling, with a quiet dreamy quality that reflects the pace of life in a small village in the first half of the twentieth century. But it’s never dull – on the contrary it’s a film that slowly unspools its narrative thread, progressively drawing us in to Eva’s story and expanding outward from the initial setting of confined interior space to the ever-expanding world where Eva finds herself. It’s well worth the journey. (Diana Schnelle)