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Thoughts on the Swedish Documentaries

‘Loving Lorna’ and ‘Ouaga Girls’


Jessica and Annika Karlsson’s Loving Lorna and Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s Ouaga Girls are testaments to girl power. The Swedish documentaries depict the devastating reality their main characters need to navigate in, where it takes a great amount of effort to finally achieve one’s goals. Despite all the struggles and sadness, though, viewers can leave the cinema with a smile on their face.

Jessica and Annika Karlsson’s Loving Lorna tells the story of a young girl named Lorna who lives in the neighbourhood called Ballymun in Dublin. The particular area was once known for its horses; everyone had one or more, but nowadays, due to legislation, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep horses. However, Lorna is keen on her passion, especially since she wants to be a farrier, so to make and fit horseshoes for horses’ feet. While following her devoting time to her passion, a sad and hopeless Irish landscape starts to occupy the screen. Moreover, Lorna is told to stop working with horses due to her back problems, and her family is in deep financial crisis as her parents are unemployed. They might be poor, but that doesn’t affect their relationship, and what we can see is the ultimate love within the family. It becomes also clear that the social system somehow failed them, but they never give up. As the father says, he has been unemployed for such a long time, but he does want to do something, so he works with the horses whenever he can. No doubt, where Lorna has inherited her willpower and stamina that push her not to give up, but keep going.

To meet the Ouaga girls, we have to travel to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where, at a feminist education centre, a group of young women are studying to become a car mechanic, which is considered to be a job for men. All of them grew up in a family with fewer opportunities, and their personalities cannot be more different, but they all end up at this particular school and need to pass all the same courses to finally get their certificate. The camera not only follows them around in school, but also accompanies them at parties, at the hairdresser, and at home, etc. So the school only serves as a framework, the emphasis is really on human connections, feelings and everyday struggles. Their life is definitely not easy in a place where there is a lack of resources, and the future is quite unclear. Through the conversations, we are allowed to see the world through their eyes, and gain knowledge of the issues they are facing, about which they are also talking to the school’s psychologist. However, despite all the poignant stories, Ouaga Girls is truly a film about hope and urges us to smile every now and then. The girls by sticking together and supporting each other can overcome all the obstacles they might encounter during the way, but nothing can stop them, only slow them down.

Even though Loving Lorna and Ouaga Girls show the completely different parts of the world, they have a lot in common when it comes to their main themes and topics addressed. Most importantly, both are dedicated to women with willpower and strengths. Another parallel can be drawn while looking at the profession these young and energetic girls with dreams want to be pursuing. Traditionally, men mainly have those professions, and women are likely looked at with suspicion when aiming at joining the men’s club. However, these young ladies have the inner strength to be up for the challenge to be accepted and make their dreams come through or finish what they have started, even if the circumstances are against them. The societal issues addressed in the films are poverty, unemployment, traditions, family connections, urbanisation, and modernisation. In both documentaries, these issues influence their characters’ life to a large degree, and narrow down the opportunities available to them. Still, they always look at the bright side of the sun.

The secret of these films is that they allow us to dive into the main characters life and get as close as possible to them. The scenes showing the private and public are edited in a way that a balance is reached and performed. Both Jessica and Annika Karlsson’s Loving Lorna, which won the award for Best New Nordic Voice at this year’s Nordisk Panorama, and Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s Ouaga Girls can be an inspiration for all of us.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.