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December 18, 2014

Fucking Åmål

by Franz Patrick


Fucking Åmål (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) and her family had moved and settled in Åmål, a small town in Sweden, for two years, Agnes still finds it difficult to make friends. School is a torturous experience for her since she believes just about everyone whispers behind her back about how much of a weird loner she is. It does not help that Agnes is a lesbian and she is attracted to Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), one of the most well-liked girls in school.

Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson, “Fucking Åmål” could have been only a straightforward story about a girl, potentially two girls, coming out of the closet but I admired that it strives to tell us something more. The idea of escaping to some place better is one of its major themes and it is explored in a subtle, intelligent, and sensitive manner.

Agnes is so unhappy, there comes a point when she decides to risk her life. In order for her to experience a temporary escape from the unbearable emotional and psychological turmoil, she needs to feel something physical: seeing that she has the power to make something happen, even if she knows she is harming herself, makes her feel less powerless—but not powerful—and more in control.

Since the gloom of the material is given time to percolate, the aforementioned scene is given an air of intimacy. We are right there with her. We feel her thought process. Instead of us thinking that Agnes decided to cut her wrist for take sake of gaining attention, we feel genuine fear and sympathy for her.

Like Agnes, Elin has her share of frustrations. She is so bored of Åmål, she has turned to drugs and drinking just to feel like she is somewhere else, out of her body. Although sprinkled with humor, the scene where she tries to convince her older sister (Erica Carlson) that they ought to sample various drugs from the medicine cabinet for fun implies a lot about her mindset.

Through Agnes and Elin’s unhappiness, the writer-director successfully establishes a template when it comes to why Agnes and Elin are a good fit for one another, not necessarily romantically but as possible friends. The night the two girls meet, Elin’s sexuality is uncertain so we are consider that perhaps their relationship is merely a form of a blossoming friendship.

The defining moment of the film is when the duo decide to hitchhike from Åmål to Stockholm, without informing anybody, if one of the next five cars on the road stopped to give them a ride. I found myself invested in the course their lives will take. On one hand, I did not want any of the vehicles to stop for practical safety reasons. They do not have money, they carry no extra clothes, and everyone will undoubtedly worry. On the other hand, if someone did stop for them and they somehow reached the city, it could be a perfect chance for them realize that there is a world out of Åmål just waiting for them when the right time comes. Maybe when they return, they will not be so unhappy.

The recurring theme of escape in “Fucking Åmål,” also known an “Show Me Love,” is astutely connected to the backdrop of a teenager coming to terms with her sexuality. Shot in a grainy, yellowish look, watching Agnes and Elin’s stories, first separate then together, feels like perusing through an old photo album. And despite its consistent melancholy tone, it somehow still brims with optimism.

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