“Do You Want to Mango With Me?” An Exploration of Female Pleasure in Alli Hapasalo’s ‘Girl Picture’ (2022)

Girl Picture, alternatively titled Girls Girls Girls, is a bold coming of age film centred around the lives of three girls navigating the treacherous landscapes of sex, commitment and self-exploration. Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff), prone to frequent outbursts of anger as a release of her overwhelming emotions, grapples with a sense of abandonment from her mother and envy of the new family she has created, whilst battling her own self-sabotaging tendencies; Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), who ironically often finds herself delving into sexual anecdotes in attempts to make conversation with the opposite sex, embarks on a quest to uncover the secrets to sexual pleasure; Emma (Linnea Leino) faces a dilemma between her passion for figure skating, her desire for independence, and the excitement and heartbreak of young love. 

In this film that would fail the reverse Bechdel test, female pleasure, or lack thereof, is placed at the forefront, emphasised through the all-too-real awkwardness of Rönkkö’s sex scenes juxtaposed with those of her sexually liberated friend Mimmi. These authentic feeling sex scenes, void of nudity, music, and stylistic editing, paint an honest depiction of first sexual encounters and navigating sex as a young adult. Interestingly, it is the queer narrative in the film in which sex is not presented as a barrier or source of awkwardness or anxiety. It is refreshing to see queer characters whose storylines do not centre on them wrestling with their sexual identities, but that instead allow their struggles to stem from other areas of their lives, such as their familial relationships and career aspirations. It is instead the film’s parallel heterosexual narrative that depicts the mystery of sexual pleasure and Rönkkö’s journey of self-discovery. 

Close up of Emma and Mimmi's faces moments before a kiss

Image courtesy of Nordisk Film

In the prolonged and intentionally uncomfortable scenes of Rönkkö’s sexual exploits, continuous close-ups of the concentration and discomfort on her face highlight the pressure she puts on herself to achieve the sexual pleasure she spends the film in pursuit of. The other participant in this act is completely cut off and the focus is solely on Rönkkö and her determination to experience what she thinks is required of her to feel fulfilled and ‘normal’. However, in the film’s counterpart sex scenes with Mimmi and Emma, there is no question of the pleasure experienced by both parties involved. Mimmi’s declaration through flirtatious laughter that she is glad she can bring her girlfriend pleasure starkly contrasts one of Rönkkö’s paramours questioning ‘Did you come?’ after little evidence to support an affirmative answer from our protagonist. 

Rönkkö engages in numerous failed sexual encounters whilst on the discovery to achieve sexual pleasure, but each leaves her with more questions about herself than the last. In a vomit-featuring quasi-sex scene reminiscent of Olivia Wilde’s 2019 directorial debut Booksmart, the film highlights the at times sickening sensation of trying to know yourself and your desires whilst on the cusp of adulthood. Despite attempts to direct her partners in the hope of increasing her chances of achieving sexual satisfaction, Rönkkö is ultimately unsuccessful. However, what the film does perfectly is not try to provide a solution to Rönkkö’s inability to find this pleasure by the end of the film. There is no climactic moment when she finally discovers the right person to ignite this pleasure within her. The film leaves us with the conclusion that this does not have to be the end goal. Rönkkö’s is not an unresolved story of failure, but a refreshing depiction of the valid possibility of asexuality and the spectrum of female empowerment in knowing your sexual desires, even in the absence of them.