Monday, June 24, 2013

Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål)














SHOW ME LOVE (Fucking Åmål)         A                 
Sweden  Denmark  (89 mi)  1998  d:  Lukas Moodysson

you are my sun
you shine over me
you warm me
bur I can not touch you
you are so far away
I am a little planet
that turns round you
round round round
one of all the planets
that you never see
—poem seen on the computer of Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg)

Do you know what my nightmare is? That I’ll live here in Fucking Åmål and have a family and children and a car and a house...all those things. And then my husband will leave me for a younger and prettier girl, so I’m just left with screaming children. It’s completely meaningless!
— Elin (Alexandra Dahlström)

Moodysson started his career as a writer, publishing a novel and five poetry collections by the time he was 23 before turning to film, making three shorts prior to his breakthrough feature FUCKING ÅMÅL that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and literally exploded into Swedish theaters, when no less than Ingmar Bergman hailed it as a masterpiece,  Using primarily a non-professional cast, including two girls in the leading roles aged 14 and 17 that had never been given the lead in a feature film before, written and directed by a 29-year old fresh out of film school, and shot on a ridiculously low budget, the film quickly became the biggest Swedish box office hit in history, where one million out of a total population of 9 million in Sweden saw the film, which swept the Guldbagge Swedish National Film Awards, winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, with both actresses sharing the Best Actress Award, and it currently ranks in the Top Ten of the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.  Only in America was there an objection to the original title, where the industry magazine Variety refused to run ads with that title, so Moodysson changed it to the name of the song that plays over the end credits.  Using a highly naturalistic, near documentary style, shot on a gritty Super 16 mm blown up to 35 mm, the film examines the dead end lives of self-absorbed teenagers in the small town of Åmål, viewed as the most boring city in all of Sweden, where the title reflects their disgust at having to live there.  The subject is a recurring theme for many teenagers who feel stuck in a backwater town, from the aching loneliness of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) to the warm comedic satire of Norway’s Turn Me On, Dammit! (Få meg på, for faen) (2011), where the girls in that town give the village sign the finger every time they pass by on the bus.  Written by the director, featuring the awkwardness of teenagers and plenty of Scandinavian character throughout, the authenticity of the teen dialogue, for instance, is uncannily accurate, which is what gives the film its dramatic weight and power. 

The story parallels the lives of two girls, Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) and Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), where we learn straightaway that Agnes has a secret crush on Elin, as she keeps a computer diary, but Elin is an elusive force of nature, a brazen extrovert, even something of an exhibitionist, and a fearlessly strong-willed girl that aspires to become Miss Sweden, or perhaps an actress while at present she’s currently one of the most popular girls in school.  Agnes, on the other hand, is painfully shy with no friends, likely because she is rumored to be a lesbian and is a quiet introvert with thoughts of becoming a writer, or perhaps a psychiatrist.  Elin commiserates about her boring life with her older sister Jessica (Erica Carlson), thinking they need to go to a rave, but to her dismay, Jessica tells her raves are out, that she saw it listed in the “out” column in a magazine.  Elin literally explodes with horror and disbelief, “Why must we live in fucking motherfuck Åmål?!  When something’s in it takes so long to get here it’s out already because we’re so fucking behind!”  All they have left is underage drinking, their only outlet, the old-fashioned high, as incredibly no one has any drugs.  So on the surface Elin is a self-centered party girl, part of the popular clique that steamrolls over the rest of the population through bullying and bad manners, embarrassing anyone that happens to be different, while Agnes has no outlet for her worries and frustrations, even viciously turning on a wheelchair-bound social outsider, Viktoria (Josefine Nyberg), the only one who shows up for her 16th birthday party (where her mother cooks roast beef even though she’s a vegetarian), telling her the only reason they’re friends is because no one else wants to be their friend, “We are friends only because we feel sorry for each other,” baring a horribly cruel side and exposing an unspoken truth about how relationships are formed.  Afterwards, Agnes is so disappointed with herself that she contemplates suicide—until the doorbell rings.  After getting drunk at another party, Elin and her sister Jessica are curious about this “other” party, but find it so pathetic that Elin is willing to kiss Agnes on a dare for money, though afterwards she regrets humiliating someone she barely knows. 

While her sister returns to the safety of the pack, Elin returns to Agnes, curious if she’s really a lesbian, convincing her to come to the other party, though along the way, Elin reveals how trapped she feels in Åmål, thinking both of their problems could be solved in a bigger city like Stockholm, deciding right then and there to hitchhike to Stockholm.  Giddy at the thought, they hop in the backseat of a stopped car, both exhilarated with a rush of excitement, with Foreigner cranked up on the car radio, I Want to know what love is - Foreigner - YouTube  (4:50), leading to their first real kiss.  But the driver is so shocked he kicks them both out of his car, where afterwards the Åmål reality sets in, as Elin ignores Agnes, who’s forced to endure continual taunts from classmates while Elin remains thoroughly flustered by what she does feel.  She grabs ahold of the first available guy, Johan (Mathias Rust), as this is the only kind of thinking that makes sense to her sister, and even makes love for the first time, but she quickly dumps him afterwards, as the guy is totally useless (but just as much in love with Elin as Agnes is), incapable of forming a thought in his head, where the popular crowd all thinks exactly the same way, where appearances matter more than reality.  While Elin was trying to prove she wasn’t attracted to Agnes, completely ignoring her at school, she still kept thinking about her.  One of the unique aspects of the film is the ease by which it unflinchingly shows the damage of teenage cruelty, which is an inherent aspect of both teenage leads, yet they remain appealing nonetheless because they are struggling to understand themselves, largely triggered by the confusion of puberty.  This anti-Hollywood realism is the key to the film, as the characters are so believable.  Many of the high school characters are completely recognizable basically anywhere in the world, veering towards stereotype, like a rude awakening, but they all bring an identifiable humanity that is uniquely their own, something that allows the audience, along with the two leads, to get past the hideousness of vicious rumors and gossip, and discover something better lies beyond this cruelty and pettiness where the norm attacks anyone who’s different.  Despite Elin’s rebellious nature and her refusal to be like the others, finally not giving a damn what any of the rest of them think, there’s something more here than meets the eyes, a euphoric triumph of the spirit, getting to the heart of love transcending labels of homosexuality or heterosexuality, beautifully scored to the punk anthem Broder Daniel - Underground - YouTube (3:00), where they literally prance upon a new day.  

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