Sometimes it takes a small film to tackle big but subtle ideas, like the role of the mystical in everyday life. In Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits, Cincinnati preteen Toni (played by Royalty Hightower, a newcomer whose face holds the camera with unguarded intensity) seems headed to becoming a boxer, like her older brother. But she really longs to be part of a dance troupe that rehearses at the same community center where she trains. After her workouts, she peers wistfully through the narrow window of the gym where young women perfect their elaborate routines. They’re older than she is, which is part of the draw–the world of feminine power and beauty that they represent calls out to her.
But shortly after she joins the troupe, the women begin suffering intense, enigmatic fainting spells, or fits. Are these an affliction, or possibly an initiation into a state of grace? Holmer doesn’t answer that question outright, and her film, both intimate and bracingly cinematic, is better for it. The Fits riffs on the power and mystery of adolescent beauty, and on the joy of what it means to move.
This appears in the June 13, 2016 issue of TIME.
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