June 17, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Anna Roller
German and Italian with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2021, in Germany and in Italy, the dramatic film “Dead Girls Dancing” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Three German female friends, who are all recent graduates of high school, go on a road trip to Italy, where they meet a rebellious teenager, and get up to some mischief with her.
Culture Audience: “Dead Girls Dancing” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in female-oriented coming-of-age stories that explore teenage rebellion and sexuality.
“Dead Girls Dancing” is an uneven but well-acted drama about teenagers on a road trip that’s more than what it first appears to be. It’s also a journey of a closeted queer teenager who’s taking tentative steps out of the closet and yearning to connect with someone with whom she can be her true self. The movie has a meandering quality that sometimes drags down the pace. However, the deeper meaning behind the story becomes very apparent in the last 20 minutes of film, where there’s an emotional powerful moment that’s at the heart of the story. “Dead Girls Dancing” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival in New York City.
Written and directed by Anna Roller, “Dead Girls Dancing” takes place in 2021. The movie’s opening scene shows a montage of German high school students taking their class pictures for their last year in high school. (The cities where this movie takes place are never mentioned.)
Most of the teens smile or make goofy faces for the camera, except for 18-year-old Ira Noe (played by Luna Jordan), who stares solemnly at the camera while her photo is being taken. Ira, who is a quiet introvert, has an air of sadness about her. As time goes on, observant viewers will notice that Ira’s tendency to be withdrawn probably has a lot to do with her being a closeted queer woman.
Ira isn’t a compete loner. Her two best friends are also in the same graduating class. Ka (played by Noemi Liv Nicolaisen) is a talkative and extroverted blonde who is the most rebellious of the trio. Malin (played by Katharina Stark) is fun-loving and is more attuned to what Ira might be feeling emotionally. After they graduate from high school, the three teenage pals decide to take a road trip through Italy, using a car owned by Malin’s father.
“Dead Girls Dancing” is mainly about this road trip and how it changes the lives of Ira, Ka, Malin and another teenager close to their age whom they meet in Italy. After a long day of driving, the trio stops at a hostel (the closest lodging for miles) to get a room. But to their disappointment, there are no rooms available at the hostel.
Outside the building, there’s a teenage woman who has her own room. Ira, Ka and Malin all need to use a restroom, so Ira approaches this stranger to explain the situation and to ask her the unusual request for all three of them to use her hostel restroom. The stranger introduces herself as Zoe (played by Sara Giannelli) and agrees to this request in a friendly manner. Zoe says she is an orphan who has been on her own “for a while.”
After Zoe invites Ira, Ka and Malin into her room, they all form an instant rapport. Ira’s attraction to Zoe indicates that she hopes that Zoe could become more than a friend, but Ira is too shy to make the first move. The four teens get caught smoking marijuana in the room by the hostel manager. Before they can be thrown out, Zoe impulsively decides to take off (without paying her hostel bill) with her three new acquaintances and join them on the road trip.
But a major problem occurs when the car breaks down in a remote area. The insurance company for the car says that the company won’t be able to send mechanic help in the area for the next 48 hours. In the meantime, Ira, Ka, Malin and Zoe walk to the nearest village, which is completely deserted because it has been evacuated due to impending wildfires. The rest of “Dead Girls Dancing” shows what happens when these four teens are left to their own devices in this temporarily abandoned village.
Not surprisingly, something else goes very wrong besides a car malfunctioning. Unfortunately, the middle section of the movie gets repetitive with scenes of the four teens goofing off and partying in the deserted village, including getting drunk in an abandoned church. But these party scenes also show the undercurrent of attraction that Ira has for Zoe, who senses Ira’s attraction and flirts with her.
“Dead Girls Dancing” doesn’t really get interesting until something else goes wrong on the trip. It’s the catalyst for all of the teens, especially Ira, to have a reckoning with who they are and what type of moral character they have. The potential relationship between Ira and Zoe is also affected.
Jordan’s nuanced performance as a sexually repressed queer woman succeeds in filmmaker Roller’s intention for it to be the standout performance of “Dead Girls Dancing,” which has effective cinematography from Felix Pflieger. There’s a scene showing Ira going through a quiet devastation that is the defining moment of the movie. Viewers who have the patience to watch a somewhat disjointed and rambling film will find these authentically portrayed scenes as a worthwhile reason to watch “Dead Girls Dancing.”