Film Review: Game Girls at Berlinale

Just over ten years ago, Polish filmmaker Alina Skrzeszewska moved to a hotel near Skid Row, America’s infamous “homeless capital” located on the outskirts of central Los Angeles. Despite only spending a year living in the neighbourhood, it’s had a significant impact on her life – and she’s returned there once again to make yet another documentary following the citizens caught living on the streets just blocks away from luxurious skyscrapers.

Game Girls

Game Girls follows couple Teri Rogers and Tiahna Vince, who over the course of the documentary, aim to overcome the hardships of life on the street in order to find a secure full time job, as well as continuing the quest for affordable housing for the two of them. Despite hurdles ranging from prison time to alcoholism and recurrent mental health issues, the pair manage to move away from the streets. Unfortunately, like so many African Americans at the bottom of the prosperity ladder, getting a roof over their heads doesn’t put an end to their predicament.

Alina Skrzeszewska doesn’t shy away from portraying the most harrowing aspects of life on the streets, even if they are just tales being recounted at group therapy sessions (part of a workshop the director herself founded to help women within this community). I can’t imagine anybody leaving a screening of Game Girls without being left completely shaken by some of the more disturbing stories revealed here – in particular a recount of graphic sexual violence that was left ignored by the victim’s parent. Skrzeszewska takes great care to not let this sequence fall in to exploitation; even as the camera fixes on the interviewee’s face while discussing this sickening atrocity, the unflinching discussion of this and several other subjects feels vital. As society has ignored these women, the horrors they’ve faced have equally gone under reported. It’s understandably difficult to listen to, but it’s important that their stories are finally heard.

Skrzeszewska’s other achievement in the film is managing to balance the light and the dark. Despite the political backdrop, with everything from the social unrest caused by deep-rooted inequality to the sheer sexuality of the individuals having major ramifications in their search for a home, the portrayal of the pair’s relationship still feels heartwarming. Again, Skrzeszewska is not one to shy away from the downsides in their relationship (a later scene in the film involves a physically violent argument, triggered by mental health issues – the camera looks away, Reservoir Dogs-style, to avoid exploiting this personal moment), but that she manages to depict a couple in the midst of an intimate, romantic happiness despite their surroundings is one of the film’s quietest triumphs.

As a whole, Game Girls may prove to be too intimate for some viewers; Skrzeszewska chooses to simply depict the hardships of the pair’s lives, letting the viewers connect the dots to wider political connotations instead of overtly spelling it out. But this is because it is a political film second, and a moving humanist film first. It’s a frequently difficult watch, but it never feels anything less than worthwhile – and for all the film’s faults, managing to effectively depict the human cost of regressive social policies is an achievement that shouldn’t be looked down upon.

3 stars

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of Films de Force Majeure

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Alistair Ryder
Alistair (member of GALECA, the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics' Association) is a 22 year old former journalism student from the sun-soaked city of Leeds, England, who has recently moved to Cambridge. He has been writing about film since the start of 2014, at Cut Print Film, editor over at Film Inquiry and is also a regular contributor to the "Bums on Seats" movie review show on Cambridge 105 FM.
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