wanna join the club?: why Galerianki (Mall Girls) reminds me of Thirteen

Poster for the Polish film Galerianki (Mall Girls) directed by Katarzyna Roslaniec (image courtesy of forum.wiaderko.com)

Yesterday I read a piece on FilmContact.com about the Polish film Galerianki (2009), translated into Mall Girls. The film follows four teenage girls who cruise the mall looking for older men willing to purchase the girls designer clothes, jewelry, and cell phones in exchange for sexual favors.

Galerianki is directed by Katarzyna Roslaniec, who actually created a short film (of the same title) released in 2006 and then adapted her short into a feature length film. According to FilmContact.com Roslaniec came up with the idea for Galerianki when she was a film student and established a relationship – over a 6 month period – with real life “mall girls” in which they divulged the in’s and out’s for how their own brand of economic exchange worked. The feature length film tries to capture the gritty realism of this current form of prostitution that is indeed a serious concern in Poland and other countries around the world.

The piece in FilmContact.com does a great job of painting the cultural landscape of Poland and how it relates to the film. In Poland Galerianki has reached cult status with critics and parents shocked by the film’s portrayal of teenage girlhood and the “revelation that Catholic girls, some from middle-class families, are prostituting themselves for a Chanel scarf or an expensive sushi dinner.” The debate surrounding Galerianki is also “causing many here to question whether materialism is polluting the nation’s soul.” Issues of materialism stand out in the trailer for the film, which you can view below (note: I couldn’t find a trailer that contained English subtitles, but at least you can get a sense for the look and feel of it).

The trailer emphasizes this idea of materialism by mapping the price tags of girls’ items of clothing onto their actual wardrobes as they walk about the mall. Moreover, a bar-code appears onscreen as each character and actor’s name is presented in the trailer – suggesting that these characters can be purchased and bought like items at a mall. Plus there is a lot of consumption happening in the trailer with the characters trying on lipstick and showing off their latest “gifts” from the anonymous men. Materialism is also expressed in the setting – the mall – which almost becomes another character, constantly in the background with meticulously crafted window displays and inviting mindless consumption.

Though poster for the film (shown above) makes me think of Clueless, the trailer for Galerianki actually reminds me of the film Thirteen, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Both films attempt to show dark, hidden worlds of girl culture and touch on current moral panics be it prostitution or drugs. Plus both films frame their narrative around the initiation of a new girl into this underworld of sex, drugs, and consumption. I’ve seen Thirteen and have issues with the film, and many of these same issues creep up in the trailer for Galerianki. First here’s the trailer for Thirteen.

In both films the new girl to the group is presented as innocent and unknowing – which relates to the new girl’s racial identity, since both characters are represented as a bit on the fairer side with blonde-ish hair. The girls that initiate the “innocent” teens into these underworlds of sex and drugs are inevitably represented as having darker hair (and particularly in the case of Thirteen – darker skin), and therefore are coded as (racialized) “others.” In this respect both films present narratives in which the “others” are the bad seeds that bring in – and bring down – good (white) girls. This is especially the case in Thirteen in which Holly Hunter, as the mom, laments her daughter’s lost (but within the racial politics of the film possibly “stolen”) innocence, shouting at one point: “My daughter was playing with Barbies before she met you.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Galerianki resolves this conflict of racial identities and female friendships. Moreover, it is hard to tell from the trailer whether this film will fall into the trap of either glorifying this type of consumption – or presenting it has a hollow cautionary tale. I’m hoping Roslaniec manages to find a middle ground in which the characters have depth and context is given as to why girls flock to the mall to exchange sexual favors for designer items.

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~ by actyourage09 on March 30, 2010.

2 Responses to “wanna join the club?: why Galerianki (Mall Girls) reminds me of Thirteen”

  1. Wow…you must really be fixated on this racial things to find it in Galerianki.
    It makes me wonder if you watched the movie at all. Otherwise you’d notice oit’s set in Poland, where this black-fair hair stuff does not mean anything. Moreover you could even notice that one of the “tempting” prostitutes is in fact REALLY blond, much more than the main character.
    Don’t spread around this nosense, trying to find a racial meaning in a Polish movie that is eons away from your racial problems. It’s about social issues like prostitution, not even a hint on racism.
    good luck

    • Hello Orpo,

      First off thank you for your comments. As I mentioned in the post above I haven’t had a chance to actually Galerianki yet, since it still hasn’t been released in the U.S. (or isn’t yet available via Netflix). Therefore, all my speculation is just that – speculation, based on the trailer.

      I appreciate you pointing out that I may be misreading the trailer due to viewing it through my subjective position as a viewer from the U.S. Indeed I might have been hasty to compare Galerianki with Thirteen.

      While other countries may not share the exact same racial tensions as the U.S. countless countries have tensions involving issues of immigration, ethnicity, and nationality . . . which often relate to issues of race. Though you argue there is no racial meaning in this Polish film, I’m looking forward to viewing the film for myself and exploring it’s themes from my (albeit limited, subjective) point-of-view. Thank you!

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