Kid Svensk is the alter-ego adopted by Kirsi Ruotsalainen (Miia Saarinen), a twelve year old Finnish girl living in Gothenburg, Sweden in the summer of 1984. Her father passed away many years ago, while her mother Ester (Milka Ahlroth) is a sullen, introverted woman working as a janitor at Kirsi’s school. This causes Kirsi much embarrassment, but the gutsy girl gives her snooty Swedish classmates as good as she gets. Kirsi wins a prestigious writing competition but is mortified when Ester - who still can’t speak a word of Swedish - won’t answer questions posed by a local reporter or let her play with nice Swedish girl Lotta (Agnes Sörenson) and her kindly family. When Ester decides they will be spending the summer in the Finnish countryside with her vivacious friend Sirkka (Mari Rantasila) and her Iron Maiden-loving teenage son Jamppe (Jim Rautiainen), Kirsi loses her chance to be a junior reporter for the local radio station. So she steals a tape recorder and compiles her own news reports on the road.
Writer-director Nanna Huolman delivers a more honest view of adolescence than is commonly found in much rose-tinted family fare. Kirsi’s outward confidence masks brittle insecurity which deepens once she is reunited with Markku, Sirkka’s brother and the man Ester would have married had she not fallen pregnant with another man’s child. This leads Kirsi to conclude she is the reason why her mother is so miserable, the idea that drives her increasingly rebellious behaviour. She shoplifts, flirts with older men, tries to steal their wallets and proves stroppy and foul-mouthed. That Kirsi remains wholly engaging and sympathetic throughout the movie is testament to ebullient child star Miia Saarinen whose sweet smile and nuanced performance shine through the occasionally aimless narrative.
Parents may be a little surprised how frank the script is about adolescent sexuality and nascent longing, especially for what is ostensibly a family film. Nothing overtly sexual occurs onscreen but the dialogue is disarmingly explicit as Kirsi and Jamppe flirt and exhibit a not entirely innocent curiosity about each other’s bodies. At one point Kirsi openly offers herself to a clearly flustered Jamppe, before being sharply rebuked. Nevertheless the film comes across as fresh and open-minded, never once seeming seedy. Ultimately, Kid Svensk is less concerned with sex than it is with troubled youngsters finding their place in an uncertain world. Sex, loathe as most grownups may be to admit it, is just one possible route. As her alter-ego might suggest, Kirsi is slightly ashamed of her rural Finnish background compared to the laidback cool of the Swedes. While the film sheds some light on tensions between Swedes and Finnish immigrants, some of the other adolescent anxieties on view prove more universal. You don’t have to know anything about Scandinavian culture to realise watching your mom dance at a cheesy disco is completely embarrassing, as Jamppe admits his loud, party-loving mother mortifies him as much as Kirsi is ashamed of the dull, emotionally reticent Ester.
Gradually, both kids rekindle their warmth towards their family and learn to take pride in their Finnish heritage while the fadeout hints Ester has grown more open towards her Swedish neighbours. Although the third act skirts towards melodrama, the pervading tone exemplifies dramatic authenticity and a winning naturalism, bolstered of course by that stellar performance from Miss Saarinen. Not too sure about the cod-Eighties electro-punk rocker that plays over the closing credits, though.