Rare is it to find a film, short or feature, that delivers on multiple levels, but Katia Badalian’s Heroines is one of them. A simple film: two characters, mostly one location, this snippet of a proposed feature nevertheless tells a complete story, one that bridges the disparate tones of raunchy sex comedy and social issue drama in its short eight minutes. Via a deliciously vulgar script and standout performances, it presents as an entertaining character showcase, but this is merely a charade on top of a discomfiting look at young female sexualization.
Ten year old Nina is at the home of her neighbor, Regina, waiting for her mother to pick her up. Regina is a coarse-talking woman, dressed in sexy garb while chain-smoking in her kitchen, and, perhaps emboldened by the Nina’s mute unresponsiveness, takes an opportunity to give the young girl her own version of “the talk”. Nina, at first, does not seem to understand, but perhaps she understands much more than even she realizes.
Heroines does rely on a twist, so, while surprise isn’t necessary for its appreciation, it is recommended that you watch the film first before continuing with the review.
Because of the film’s simplicity, strength in its core elements is paramount, and allow the audience to home in on the layers of the screenplay and the nuanced performances while still showcasing Badalian’s stripped down filmmaking style, which is sharp and propulsive in its blocking and edit.
The opposition of the narrative’s central juxtaposition between levity and weight has definitely stuck with me since the first time I saw this film, and though it can seem manipulative, it is informed by an authenticity that the subtleness of the film highlights. Based on a story by Badalian, the screenwriter Sara Jane Bowers infuses a highly specific tone that makes the film both funny and shocking at the same time. Not giving in wholly to either impulse, the perfect amount of each is delivered at the right pace, making the film feel balanced and memorable for both aspects. The top-level premise feels hard to innovate upon—adults giving pre-teens “the talk” has been done so many times, in every teen movie ever—yet Heroines stands out thanks to its creative writing which makes the comedy sparkle while still weaving in the dark undercurrent that foreshadows the film’s somber closing gut punch.
The performances of this film are just as unforgettable and touching as the screenplay. The chemistry between Anna Khaja (Regina) and Sage Adler (Nina) brings the words to life in a memorable way. Adler, who does not speak in the film, fleshes out her character with an outstanding performance. So much is said through her facial expressions that express all the confusing feelings in a heartbreaking way, while Khaja is captivating as she delivers her lines with perfect timing, starting on a more comedic tone and evolving into a more empowering speech.
Some viewers will find Heroines crass, to shoehorn such a painful and sensitive subject into the trappings of a comedy, yet it is this novel pairing that makes the film stand out. Additionally, as a cathartic outlet for processing her own experiences, it is within Badalian’s rights to turn the potential for lasting trauma into art. In conversation with us she remarks that “This film is my form of letting go.” We applaud that sentiment, and moreover are happy that result makes for such an entertaining watch, even as it leaves us uncomfortable long after viewing.
After a successful festival run, including a selection at SXSW earlier in the year, we are happy to host the online premiere of Heroines. The LA-based Badalian is currently working on the feature length adaptation of this short while also working on a webseries. She has also developed a bigger budget short film that will hopefully be filmed in the next year.