Milena (Dagmara Krasowska) and her friends spend their free time in shopping malls, where they look not only for entertainment, but also for sponsors. They offer sex to men in exchange for presents bought in the malls. Most of them are the girls of 7th-9th grade, who in the world of omnipresent consumption also want to become real consumers. With no moral resistance, thanks to theirs services, they get clothes, cellular phones, and cosmetics...

'Teen shopper' takes on new meaning in Polish social drama.

POLISH FILM FESTIVAL: 'Love doesn’t exist," declares one of the teenage protagonists in Katarzyna Roslaniec’s adolescent drama Mall Girls. 'It’s better to party and not get involved." If that suggests a hard-hearted attitude, the scenarios in this Polish movie are grimly mercenary on both sides of the equation. For the teenage girls in the film, 15 and 16-year-olds, the best way to access material gain is to exchange sexual favours with men. The trade is couched as a kind of patronage, with 'presents" earnt, but it’s more like a form of prostitution.

the film is better for slyly contrasting Ala’s hopes with the decisions her own mother makes

One of artists Jenny Holzer’s famous slogans was 'Protect me from what I want" and that could easily apply to this late-blooming capitalist landscape, where Feelings is the brand name on the back pocket of a pair of jeans and advertising promises happiness through consumption. The mall the characters frequent is bright and antiseptically clean, unlike the grey apartment towers they live in, and its lack of shadows makes transgressions easy to shrug off.

For 15-year-old Ala (Ana Karczmarczyk), a sense of her budding sexuality and an unhappy home environment, where her mother and older sister ignore her and her father, leaves her ripe for outside influence. She’s drawn to the colourfully and provocatively dressed trio who sit at the back of class: the forceful Milena (Dagmara Krasowska) and her sidekicks Kaja (Dominikia Gwit) and Julia (Magdalena Ciurzynska), and the quiet girl is attracted to the blunt force of their defiant charisma that rejects boys for men and prices sexual acts against a new phone or item of clothing.

Writer/director Katarzyna Roslaniec has worked on the concept for a long period of time, having previously made a Mall Girls short film in 2006. She knows the world she wants to depict, but the story’s outline and pacing tend to the quick and not always nuanced. For example, Ala has barely entered Milena’s disruptive orbit before the latter’s tough exterior is let down to reveal her own disappointment in life, and the tough girl character tends to pinball back and forth in terms of intent and emotion.

Milena may be using Ala for emotional as opposed to material satisfaction, but the contrast of the good boy in class who has a crush on her, Michal (Franciszek Przybylski), is a little too obvious. Bespectacled and mutely besotted, he provides such a contrast to the behaviour Ala is being encouraged to pursue by her new friends that you might wonder what happened to his adolescent hormones. A simple choice is now what a teenager’s world usually turns on, and the film is better for slyly contrasting Ala’s hopes with the decisions her own mother makes.

Roslaniec draws a good performance from Ana Karczmarczyk, who has a wistful naïveté without ever proposing nostalgia, and the movie thankfully doesn’t revel in the sexual behaviour of the girls. The ramifications of Ala’s decisions are shown, but there’s no resorting to the same attitude of the men who brazenly patrol this world looking for exploitable souls, while the final sustained shot offers a telling clarity the preceding scenes don’t always reach.