“Kyss Mig” writer/director on her new queer film “Girls Lost”

Writer/director Alexandra-Therese Keining forever carved out a place in our hearts with her 2011 release, Kiss Me (Kyss Mig). If, like me, you were anxiously waiting to see what she’d bring us next, you’re in luck because the wait is almost over. Her latest project, Girls Lost, will have its world premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Based on Jessica Schiefuer’s novel Pojkarna, Girls Lost follows three teenage girls who are constantly the victims of bullying until the day they manage to turn into boys and their worldview changes. The film explores Kim’s (Tuva Jagell) very real struggles with gender identity and the mutual attraction shared with best friend Momo (Louise Nyvall), amongst other themes and attractions.

We spoke with Alexandra ahead of her trip to Toronto. She gave us the 411 on her new movie, discussed why she thinks Kiss Me was such a big hit (though not in her homeland!), and revealed whether or not we can expect to see her tackle LGBT themes again.

 Alexandra-Therese KeiningATK 1

AfterEllen.com: Before we talk about your new movie, I do want to discuss the fabulous job you did with Kiss Me. It won a bunch of awards, including the 2012 AfterEllen.com Visibility Award for Best Movie. What do you think it is about that film that resonates so well with audiences?

Alexandra-Therese Keining: I think it is the simplicity of it. I really just wanted to make a film that had a positive love message to it, and I think that really went through to the audience when they saw the film. And still see the film. I just wanted to make a warm, loving, embracing, accepting film. Obviously with Girls Lost I had a different agenda, totally, but with Kiss Me that was just the goal.


AE: Is this the first film you’re premiering at TIFF?

AK: Yeah, that’s the first time.


AE: That’s a pretty big deal—how are you feeling about that?

AK: I’m so psyched. I’m really excited. Just about showing the film to an audience for the first time. I think there’s going to be Kiss Me fans there, probably, and I hope they don’t get too disappointed that this is a completely different story from Kiss Me.


AE: It definitely is different, but in a positive way as well. Now, obviously, Girls Lost is building off of the success of Kiss Me—do you think how popular that movie was is what made this new film a logical TIFF entry?

AK: Hopefully that would be the case. I think Kiss Me was so much bigger internationally than it was in Sweden and Scandinavia. It had a huge impact in other countries, but not so much here. That’s really interesting. I think most people got really somehow offended by the happy love story element and wanted it to be darker, more complicated than it was. 


AE: When you say they wanted it to be darker, are you talking about in that typical European view of how we should make movies? Especially the very Swedish way of making movies? Is that what they were expecting? You made it too happy, and therefore you veered too far off the Swedish path of movie making.

AK: I think that would be an accurate description of it. Because what I wanted to do—I wanted to make something different from all of the movies that I’ve seen with the same theme. I just wanted to make something that would be hopeful and positive. I think most countries got that.


AE: Watching Girls Lost, I couldn’t help but think this was a personal challenge to yourself – “How far can I raise the difficulty level on tackling yet another taboo topic?” Was there an element of that there for you?

AK: Oh, I feel exposed. That’s exactly right. Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I really wanted to push it as far as I could. Mostly like a personal challenge, of course, but also because I don’t think that it would be worth doing this film if I wasn’t really able to explore the subject matter, and the feeling of having this huge dilemma and identity crisis when you’re 14. And therefore I knew I had to have a darker ending to just emphasize that kind of struggle and pain.


AE: We rarely see films that explore the themes this one did while also incorporating special effects. Tastefully incorporated special effects, mind you. Was it fun to be able to play around with that?

AK: Yeah. I mean, I had never done special effects before, and it had a huge amount of special effects in this one. And like you said, I didn’t want to make them spectacular. I didn’t want to make them like Hollywood or a big stunt–I wanted to make them really subtle and kind of mystical, and almost sneak them in. Sometimes you don’t even notice them.


AE: The major theme of the film is gender identity. Are you comfortable stating that Kim is male? Or is Kim still negotiating that?

AK: I feel that she’s still negotiating and finding out. I think the only one who really knows Kim’s true identity is Kim, and it’s in her brain. And she’s slowly getting her–she’s slowly grasping the identity issue of it as the film proceeds.

 Tuva Jagellsom as KimTuvaJagellsomKim

AE: There is an attraction between Kim and Momo, but it seems to be overshadowed by Kim’s attraction to Tony, this when Kim is in physical male form. In your opinion, does Kim’s attraction for one trump the other?

AK: I feel that the whole gateway to the attraction comes through Momo. And then when she’s transformed into a male and she has the body and she has the identity, she just falls head over heels for Tony. So I feel that the kind of relationship between Tony and Kim is much more powerful and much more passionate for Kim.


AE: Passionate would you say on a physical level? Emotional? From Momo’s side, clearly there’s a lot of history there. Is Kim’s attraction to Momo more of an emotional thing?

AK: When she kisses Momo, she feels that there’s an attraction, but Momo might not be attracted to her as a girl. But when she’s a boy, Momo is really attracted to her. That’s where the attraction starts between the two of them. They have a make out session and all that. Kim as a boy then feels attracted to her.


AE: Touching on that, I did want to discuss Momo specifically. I actually got the sense that Momo seems attracted to Kim and only Kim, in whatever form that may be. Do you see Momo as being bisexual, or is it more complicated than that?

AK: I think I actually see her as bisexual. She’s a bisexual 14, 16-year-old who’s discovering that side of herself. And it’s very forgiving towards Kim, whatever shape he or she is in.

 Louise Nyvallsom as MomoLouiseNyvallsomMomo

AE: Having watched Kiss Me and now Girls Lost, I feel like your name has to be a staple at big film festivals to come. Do you feel that Girls Lost and this year’s festival circuit will finally do that for you?

AK: Oh, hopefully. I think what I’m noticing at TIFF this time around is that there are about three or four films with the same kind of gender issue–you know, The Danish Girl, and this one, and About Ray. So to me that’s fantastic.


AE: Finally, I just wanted to ask if we can expect to see you continue to make great movies that explore LGBT themes?

AK: Yes, I will. I mean, I will probably make other films with other themes, but to me–it’s very dear to me and dear to my heart. And I get so mad when I see that there’s so few films made with these kinds of themes and love stories. Hopefully there will be some sort of change to that.


Girls Lost is screening at TIFF on September 12, 14 and 20. Check in with your local film festival to find out when it’ll be playing near you.