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German Gems Review: She Deserved It

By  · Published on January 14th, 2011

German Gems premiered last year in San Francisco as a one-day celebration of new films from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It returns this year to the Castro Theatre but expands to a three-day mini-festival running Friday, January 14th to Sunday, January 16th. Advance tickets are available at brownpapertickets, and more information about the fest can be found here.

Youth on youth violence is never a pretty thing. Well, maybe ‘never’ isn’t the right word. Sword-fighting Asian schoolgirls for example can be visually appealing. Same goes for cheerleaders in slow motion pillow fights and Catholic high-schoolers engaged in holy water-balloon battles on a hot summer day.

But I’m getting a bit off topic.

There’s nothing attractive or appealing about the based-on-a-true-story youth violence on display in She Deserved It, and the movie is all the better for it.

“I’m sorry.”

Linda is a teenager fueled equally by anger, frustration, and apathy. She runs roughshod over her parents and teachers as well as her two friends who blindly follow her lead, but when a popular classmate named Suzanne makes an innocent pass at Linda’s boyfriend the stage is set for tragedy. Suzanne ends up dead, Linda ends up in jail, and the only explanation for it all is a severe lack of perspective and humanity. But where does this evil come from and what guilt should be shouldered by the parents?

She Deserved It bears a superficial similarity to Larry Clark’s terrible ode to youthful violence and indifference, Bully, but it thankfully avoids that film’s sleazy spectacle (something inherent in every Clark production) and instead focuses on the real and honest emotional repercussions of the murder. The film jumps around in time so we know the outcome from the very beginning but still get to experience the various players at each of the different stages. Suzanne’s somber and stone-faced mother meets the cold-blooded, angel faced killer in prison, and it’s worlds apart from the scenes set a year prior where Linda is pure terror to everyone around her. We see the emotional transitions before, during, and after the murder, and the perfect storm that created it all becomes painfully apparent.

The film works for several reasons, but praise must first go to the actors. Linda is unassuming physically and her short hair makes her look more pixie-ish than powerful, but Liv Lisa Fries makes her a formidable young woman through sudden outbursts and a commanding presence. Her sheepish friends appear inexcusable in their blind obedience, but as the film goes on Linda’s frightening charisma becomes self evident. Veronica Ferres is another standout in the role of Suzanne’s mother as she channels her grief into a cathartic curiosity for the true cause of the tragedy. Her pain is visible beneath a wavering mask of control, and her struggle to comprehend becomes a heartbreaking journey.

The role of the parents in general is what elevates the film above the level of exploitation or teen melodrama. Linda’s mother is a harried enforcer who surrenders any claim to her daughter once the act is revealed while her father, nicknamed the Mouse, is an invisible and limp presence in the household. Suzanne’s parents by contrast are loving of both her and each other, but they deal with the tragedy in different ways.

Writer/director Thomas Stiller’s film has a clear message, but it’s far from definitive. That lack of a specific cause/effect accusation is by design as Stiller knows that youth violence, like almost every issue, is far from a black and white situation. Can someone be born evil, or is the familial/societal connection more to blame? Clearly the true guilt lay with the person committing the act as evidenced by the film’s final line of dialogue, but the responsibility is spread far more liberally.

She Deserved It screens Saturday, January 15th at 9pm.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.