Amanda Adolfsson’s Young Sophie Bell is an intimate insight into female friendship; passionate and personal, combative and competitive all at once. Sophie (Felice Jankell) – whose surname is actually Karlsson – has been best friends with Alice (Hedda Stiernstedt) since infancy. They shine together, as exemplified by the opening scene, where their vibrant pink and blue outfits stand out from their monochrome schoolmates. There’s a fragility to their friendship, with a sexual edge to it; Alice pushes the virginal Sophie onto boys, but responds with jealous looks when she spots Sophie kissing Arvid (Julius Fleischandlerl). After fighting with Sophie, Alice seduces Arvid – simply because she can – then travels from Sweden to Berlin with her own boyfriend.
Not long after, Alice is found dead, her skull shattered on a Berlin rail track. Distraught and despairing at the German police’s refusal to investigate, Sophie follows her friend’s trail and begins to retrace her steps; sleeping in the room Alice was renting and befriending the people Alice’s German friends. Their identities begin to blur – shades of Vertigo or Persona – but unlike those films, Young Sophie Bell remains embedded in an intensely female perspective; we remain intensely attuned to Sophie’s perspective, rather than othering her. Sophie’s journey is as much about discovering who she is as who Alice is, and locating the line between the two of them – if there even is one.
That’s not to say that Young Sophie Bell is on the same standard as those masterpieces, mind you. Adolfsson’s aesthetic is engaging – a blend of the naturalistic and the oneiric – though her screenplay’s insistence on unfolding the steps of Alice in forensic detail can occasionally undercut its resonance. Besides, Young Sophie Bell’s authentic fixation on female friendship is closer to, say, Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe –which examines friendship in crisis – or Frances Ha (directed by Noah Baumbach and co-written by Greta Gerwig) – which, like this film, considers the fallout when such a close bond is broken. This is not a film about women as indistinguishable, mysterious objects, but a personal reflection on identity and amity alike, one that sweeps out to include loneliness, sexuality and mental illness as well. An auspicious debut.