Vi är bäst! (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Stockholm, 1982: Two best friends, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are sick of hearing that “Punk is dead!” and so they decide to form a band of their own. Problem: Neither of them knows how to play an instrument. But that does not stop them. Soon, the duo becomes a trio after Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a loner because she is believed to be a devout Christian, joins the group. She can play the acoustic guitar.
“We Are the Best!,” based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson, is a delightful throwback to childhood when it feels like anything is possible. It is a refreshing picture—one that we need more of considering the current standard of movies aimed at young teens, especially girls—because it has something to say about how friendships work without having to recycle tired clichés. It is able to think outside the box at times that just about every scene, especially during the former half, comes across as natural.
Hedvig, Klara, and Bobo have distinct personalities. Although they are very different from one another, we understand and appreciate the camaraderie they share. For instance, each of them can be considered as an outsider. Most obvious is their haircuts. Klara sports a mohawk. Bobo’s is… just strange. We learn at a party that Bobo cut it herself. It shows. There is a scene that takes place early on when their classmates point out that punk is so passé which implies that Bobo and Klara’s look is an exercise in futility, that they are not “in the know.”
Klara is the leader and Hedvig is the talent. Where is Bobo’s place? I wished that Lukas Moodysson’s screenplay would have spent the time to explore this character. She is, after all, the central protagonist. We are given some clues that she might have some self-esteem issues such as not feeling beautiful enough physically—at least not on the level of Klara who gets invitations to all the parties. There are amusing moments that show Bobo having a crush on Linus (Charlie Falk), Klara’s sixteen-year-old brother. Look at how she glows when a boy finally gives her attention.
They may not be able to play music well but their attitude is clearly punk. Their sense of humor can get a bit rough at times, they cause and get into trouble, they beg strangers for money just so they can purchase an electric guitar, they even take advantage of a rule involving a sign-up sheet in order to get another band kicked out of the venue during rehearsal. There is a feeling that it is all done in good fun.
Directed by Lukas Moodysson, “Vi är bäst!” is not for audiences who expect to get a typical dramatic arc. It is unconcerned with exploring themes and deep characterization. It even dares to wander at times. Clearly, its aim is to show how these kids live, what they love, and how they deal with challenges presented to them. Punk is not dead as long as people are out there striving to live a life away from perfect square normalcy.
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.
Hål i mitt hjärta, Ett (2004)
★ / ★★★★
As his father, Rickard (Thorsten Flinck), and his father’s friend, Geko (Goran Marjanovic), shot an amateur pornographic film in their apartment, Eric (Björn Almroth) retreated to his dark room and listened to heavy metal music. “Ett hål i mitt hjärta” aimed to tackle issues like how addiction to pornography could ruin lives but I’m not sure it was successful in doing so in a meaningful way. The picture showed us graphic images of labial reconstruction surgery, S&M in which Tess (Sanna Bråding), a girl from the streets who wanted to be a successful pornographic actress in America, wasn’t informed of, and sex involving food and vomit. But what was it all supposed to mean? With its style of manic editing, the connection between shocking images and the meaning we were supposed to extract from them weren’t established. While it did have quieter moments of Eric wanting to escape his toxic environment but ultimately couldn’t do anything to get away from his father (he didn’t seem to have many friends), it was difficult to sympathize with him at times. For instance, when his dad was sleeping, Eric woke him up and claimed that the kitchen was on fire when it really wasn’t. And when his dad asked for water to drink, Eric took it from the toilet. It was disgusting behavior which was almost unwatchable as Rickard and Geko pressuring Eric to fire an air gun so that he could feel more like a man. I felt humiliated for all of the characters. Just when I felt a glimmer of hope during Tess and Eric’s conversation, the material jumped back to its repetitive technique of barraging its audiences with strong images but with little meaning. Toward the end, a fact was revealed about Rickard which was supposed to explain his fixation toward pornography and violence. However, since the journey toward the revelation was deeply unfocused, it felt more like an excuse than an explanation. “A Hole in My Heart,” directed by Lukas Moodysson, is easy to criticize because of the way it was shot and edited. Perhaps it was done on purpose because it strived to comment on our consumption of reality television. In any case, I don’t mind the technical aspects as much as long as it had a defined center. Its approach was bold and it took some wild risks in attempting to explain how one person’s dysfunction could enable other people’s dysfunction. But without exploring the increasing distance between the tragic characters, especially the lack of bond between father and son, either we don’t feel closer to them in the end or we end up just not caring about them.