‘About A Girl’ is a BAFTA award winning short film from 2001. Written by Julie Rutterford and directed by Brian Percival, the film gained great success winning several awards at a host of UK film festivals. It was director Brian Percival’s only short film and since then he has gone on to direct major television dramas such as ‘Pleasureland’ and ‘The Ruby In The Smoke’.
Set in Manchester’s industrial estate, the film is documentary like with the protagonist of the piece, a 13 year old girl, talking directly to camera about her family, friends, dreams and aspirations. Throughout the short many themes and issues are brought to the foreground including teenage pregnancy, lack of education, endemic poverty, unemployment and perhaps most importantly the issue of separated parents and how this affects children.
The film begins with the title being typed onto a simple black background in a text like font, while the sound of beeping is also heard suggesting the theme of youth to the audience and representing the age of the character we are about to see. The next thing we see is a wide shot of a silhouetted girl dancing and singing along to ‘Stronger’ by Britney Spears in an overgrown, unkempt field. The use of a wide shot here shows the girls isolation as she is alone with nothing but her music and her surroundings, while the dim lighting and the fact we can’t see the girl clearly helps to create a sense of mystery around this character and draw the audience in. Also, we later find out that the lyrics of the song are significant to the girl and her situation, as she has had to become stronger due to the things that have happened to her throughout her life.
The film then cuts to a series of hand-held close-ups of a young girl with a strong Manchurian accent talking directly to camera. Her accent represents her regional identity while the mise-en-scene of the scene shows her working class background, with the grim lighting and dilapidated industrial estate showing this. It is through the mise-en-scene that the issues of endemic poverty and social disenfranchisement are brought to the audience’s attention. Costume is also used to hint towards the girl’s class and status, with her gold hoops, scraped back hair and sporty puffa jacket all holding the stereotypical connotations of ‘chav’ and being from a lower class.
We also notice that the girl is very erratic in her speech, going from one topic to the next and talking openly about herself; this shows the girl’s confidence in not just herself but the confidence that she has in the audience, confiding in them about her family and her wish to become a singer in the future. However her erratic speech could also be a sign of her stress and anxiety over her lost baby and what she’s about to do. The use of jump cuts and the quick editorial pace also helps to add to the girl’s erratic behaviour, conveying the complicated, messy life that she is leading.
Between each of these close-ups the film cuts to show flashbacks of the girl’s day-to-day life. The first one we see is of the girl, her mother and younger sibling, with the girl in the foreground of the frame texting and her mum and sister in the background, with the mum completing a scratch card and telling the young child to “Shush a minute!” as she tries to get her attention. The use of the scratch card signifies the mothers dream to get out of their financial situation, however it also raises the issue of gambling and how children are being ignored as a result of it, raising the Christian ideology that gambling in any form and for whatever reason is wrong.
The girl then begins to talk about her father and it is obvious from what she says that her mother and father are separated and do not have a good relationship. We then see the girl and who we assume to be her dad having lunch; this appears to be their quality time together however the girl’s father is more interested in reading his paper than talking to his daughter. The girl then goes on to say how she watches her dad play football on a Sunday and then he takes her to the pub for a coke and a packet of crisps. We then see the girl outside the pub on her own, eating her crisps and singing along to ‘Stronger’, while we hear the diegetic sound of cheers from inside the establishment. This shows where the father’s priorities are and raises the issue of child neglect as some would say that even as a young teenager the girl shouldn’t be left outside on her own.
The girl is then pictured on the bus with her friends singing the Britney Spears song ‘Oops, I Did It Again’; it is at this point in the film that we see the girl for the first time as a child, laughing and mucking around with her mates. However, the song has the line “I’m not that innocent” which hints towards the girl’s own loss of innocence which we later see in the film. The girl then begins to talk about her hopes of becoming a pop star and how she writes the music for her band, but not on a piano as her mum says they can’t afford one. It is here we notice the girl’s resentment towards her mother, with the girl blaming her mum for everything they do not have. This highlights the girl’s immaturity as she doesn’t understand the financial situation her and her family are in, however it also highlights the mothers neglect with the girl saying her mum always has enough money for burgers, cigarettes and lager.
As the girl continues her walk by the canal, she begins to tell the story of how her and her brother bought a puppy, hiding it in her brother’s room until their mum found it. The girl then reveals that her mother asked the neighbours to dispose of it in the canal. We then see the girl overlooking the canal from a high-angle as she throws a plastic bag in and walks away. It is here that the shocking discovery that the girl’s still born baby was in the bag is revealed as the bag unravels and the baby sinks into the depths of the water. The audience are now fully aware of the girl’s naivety and lack of emotional maturity as she dumps her baby in the canal without any emotion whatsoever.