A wimpy security trainee is taught to stand up for herself by a daring street fighter, but learns her lesson too well, in Jakob Lass’s aggressive modern parable Tiger Girl. Barely out of film school, the young German director makes another sassy screen essay in his third feature, again produced under the “Fogma” label as an edgy mix of structured narrative and improv. It doesn’t hurt that the leads are two of Europe’s top up-and-coming actresses. Ella Rumpf is the cool, aggressive, mocking queen of attitude, as she follows her French cannibal film Raw with the meaty title role, comically aided and abetted by wannabe policewoman Maria Dragus, who played the college-bound daughter in Mungiu’s Graduation.

The fact that the protags are young women — and hetero at that, despite initial expectations of a sexual entendre — adds another dimension and some moral qualms to their antisocial antics. They make a malicious and surreal pair of supergirls, whose expertise with baseball bats and karate kicks sprouts from one scene to the next. Skipping any attempt at realism, Lass goes for the fun of overturning stereotypes and generally raising hell, though this is sometimes at the expense of making a deeper point. It should still click with a wide spectrum of young audiences.    

The story largely rhymes with his award-winning second feature Love Steaks, which also revolved around an incongruous, shy-and-retiring/bold-and-brash friendship. Here he finds an outrageous pair of contrasts in two young women who seem diametric opposites, until their viewpoints begin to converge and they almost exchange places on the violence meter.

Immature and ineffective, good-girl Maggie (Dragus) has just failed her entrance exam to the police academy after making a fool of herself trying to jump over a vaulting horse in the gym test. When a van steals her parking spot a few minutes later, it’s the last straw. Enter Tiger (Rumpf), a greasy-haired, unwashed, beautiful parking attendant, who calmly bats off the van’s rear-view mirror to make room for her. Maggie, like the viewer, is shocked and impressed at her gallantry, but what she doesn’t notice is that from the start, Tiger’s violence is always in retaliation for a wrong that has been committed, even a snub or a snooty attitude that need to be punished.

They meet again outside a bar where Dragus gets another shot showing off her comic gifts: Maggie, still making a fool of herself, has drunkenly attracted the attention of macho police cadet Theo (Enno Trebs) and is about to be railroaded into going home with him. Parenthetically, the men in the film have thankless roles and, in a nice bit of role-switching, are the ones who have to submit to gratuitous nude scenes while the girls keep their clothes on. Similarly, the women are flawed, emotionally complex characters; Theo is merely described as good-looking, with a good body and a good kisser. Before he can bend Maggie to his will, she is “rescued” by a taxi driver who whisks her away under his nose. It’s Tiger (driving a cab that is never seen again in the film, though little does it matter in the general chaos of things.)

The first fight scene is staged in a subway station at night, where the helpless blonde Maggie finds herself faced with three potential rapists. Tiger does most of the kicking and punching, but Maggie hurls a bat, accidentally knocking out one of the guys, and earns her wings as “Vanilla the Killer.”

After a few more adventures with the magnetic Tiger, she discovers she has a latent taste for violence and one not limited to petty vendettas. Dragus first got noticed as one of the teenagers in Haneke’s study in cruelty The White Ribbon, and a faint echo of that vibrates here. You can watch her attitude change as she attends a course to become a security guard. She’s the only woman in a class of not overly bright men, who like her have probably struck out in more demanding endeavors, and as her self-confidence grows under Tiger’s tutelage, she is unconsciously picked on by the beefy teacher.

She procures a security uniform for Tiger and invites her on her rounds. Tiger’s chutzpah is born of her street smarts and willingness to roll with the punches, while Maggie’s self-confidence is artificial and cruel, based on a need to be “cool.” As the violence escalates, they get beaten twice — both times by other women who know how to defend themselves.

Tiger mugs pedestrians to pay back the debts of the zonked-out addict she loves; Maggie attacks innocent people for the fun of hurting them. As she runs amuck in the final scenes, she becomes a psycho in a police uniform. It’s a shame the screenwriters didn’t take this all the way to its frightening conclusion, rather than opt for a cute ending that cuts the dramatic wires.

Golo Schultz’s score keeps up with the film’s aggressive, laid-back cool. Like the photography and editing, it keeps the energy effortlessly high.The fast-moving screenplay vaunts several good lines, like Tiger’s exasperated admonishment to Maggie, “Politeness is a form of violence against yourself” and “Are you the stripper we ordered?” when rookie cop Theo turns up to harass them.

Production companies: Fogma in association with Alpenrot, Constantin Film Produktion, rbb
Cast: Ella Rumpf, Maria Dragus, Enno Trebs, Orce Feldschau, SWISS, Benjamin Lutzke, Franz Rogowski
Director: Jakob Lass
Screenwriter: Jakob Lass, Ines Schiller, Hannah Schopf, Nico Woche, Eva-Maria Reimer
Producers: Ines Schiller, Golo Schultz
Executive producers: Martin Moszkowicz, Oliver Berben, Jakob Lass
Director of photography: Timen Schappi
Production designer: Frederike Gast
Costume designer: Anna Hostert
Editors: Gesa Jaeger, Adrienne Hudson
Music: Golo Schultz
Venue:  Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
World sales: Picture Tree International

90 minutes