Review: Sami, Joe and I

Written and directed by Karin Heberlein, Sami, Joe and Leyla are ready. Ready for a truly epic summer after finishing school and ready to get out and grab their slice of life, but they may not be prepared for what’s to come. Starring: Anja Gada, Rabea Lüthi, Jana Sekulovska, Astrit Alihajdaraj and Karim Daoud.

As this story unfolds, it becomes clear how it’s exemplifying the different ways in which young women can be taken advantage of, both sexually and emotionally. It’s a great concept because there are so many dangers which young women have to be aware of which should be highlighted, even if they ultimately can’t stop themselves falling prey to them. However, there’s a key problem which restricts it from diving fully into the different issues it raises; the extremely teen-orientated tone it sets doesn’t allow for the emotional weight it calls for. The story itself works but it simply can’t build a sincere enough depth to capture the power that it holds the potential for. It’s disappointing, it admittedly serves the teen perspective but moving into a more encompassing space would have done the story a much larger justice. It also doesn’t explore its different themes of sexual assault and radicalisation particularly deeply, they’re dealt with relatively briefly and it would have been great to dive further into their implications.

In her direction, Herberlein does manage to bring through a sincerity, it builds an atmosphere early on which has an edge of darkness and tragedy to it. You can feel the looming danger of the story quite a while before it actually arrives. It has a strong air of youth, bringing through a great use of colour and movement, creating a modern, energetic tone. However, again it falls prey to its teen setting with its use of music, its pop songs frequently playing against the mood of its story and even to a certain point cheapening it.

With a film such as this, there often tends to be a great similarity between its young female characters but here they’re all very individual personalities. At certain points, it’s almost difficult to believe that they’re all friends, mostly because Sami (Anja Gada) doesn’t quite fit with the other two. Rabea Lüthi and Jana Sekulovska give fantastic performances, emotional, layered and presenting well-rounded characters. However, Gada hits a more insincere note, occasionally going slightly over the top and missing the kind, generous side that the other two young actors bring to the table. It doesn’t stand out so much as to throw off their dynamic but it doesn’t quite blend smoothly enough.

Sami, Joe and I is a strong concept to explore the different dangers which young women face but sadly, it doesn’t have the depth to do justice to its emotion and severity. Rabea Lüthi and Jana Sekulovska give moving performances which perfectly tap into teen personalities and hold a genuine sympathy and understanding. Karin Heberlein’s direction is energetic and youthful with a dark edge but unfortunately it’s let down by a story that can’t fully get to grips with the poignance of its themes.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ ½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of Raindance Film Festival 2021

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