“You’re not normal.”
Swedish film Show Me Love is the story of the relationship between small-town two teenage girls–Agnes and Elin. Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) is almost 16, and with no friends, she’s the school outcast. Elin (Alexandra Dahlstrom) is the exact opposite. She is one of the popular girls who dreams of a modeling career and always has a boyfriend–her latest admirer is the solid, but dull, Johan (Mathias Rust). In spite of the social status that is supposed to make her happy, Elin is restless and bored. Both girls are targets for rumours at school. It’s rumoured that Elin is promiscuous, and everyone whispers that Agnes is a lesbian.
On Agnes’s 16th birthday, her well-meaning parents throw a birthday party. Agnes is sure that no one will come. Elin and her sister Jessica (Erica Carlson) arrive at the party simply because they think there will be free alcohol. Their visit to Agnes’s home only serves to highlight the pathetic birthday party. But then an incident takes place between Agnes and Elin ….
Elin opts to immerse herself in the safety of a conformist, heterosexual relationship with Johan, but rapidly discovers that only boredom and predictability are ahead. Show Me Love is the story of busting free from the roles assigned to us, and having the self-confidence to declare who you really are. Elin and Agnes are not particularly likeable characters. They’re both alienated in different ways, and they’re both capable of spiteful acts. Their characters, however, are authentic, and both of these young actresses deliver convincing performances. Elin’s tantrums and squabbles with her sister feel as though they could be unfolding before the viewer’s eyes. In Swedish with English subtitles, Show Me Love is from director Lukas Moodysson.
“Frank was a hostage I took once.”
It’s Sweden in 1943, and teenager Stig (Johan Widerberg) is a 15-year-old boy whose attention is focused on the female sex. The notes sent around the classroom, the whispered debates, and the mythology surrounding sexuality all indicate that Stig and his classmates don’t really have a clue what sex is all about, but it’s still a subject that occupies their minds. A new teacher is assigned to the class–a prim and proper, attractive, married 37 year old, named Viola (Marika Lagercrantz). Before too long, Viola and Stig are engaged in a steamy affair.
It’s fairly easy for Stig to have an affair with his beautiful teacher, and it’s also easy for him to keep it a secret from his family. Stig’s family life is decent–but claustrophobic. He lives in a tiny flat with his mother, has a semi-adversarial relationship with his father, and is deeply attached to a brother who’s serving on a submarine in the Swedish navy. Stig’s job as a cinema usher allows him some freedom of movement–plus Viola’s lingerie salesman husband travels away from home. Things begin to unravel when Stig meets and befriends Viola’s husband, Frank (Tomas von Bromsson). Frank is a pitiful drunk whose eccentric inventions are endearing at best, and annoying if you’re Viola. During the course of the affair, Frank declines, and as with all typically pathological marriages, it’s impossible to identify cause and effect. Is Frank the victim of Viola’s appetites or the cause of them?
While the film plot may sound cliched, it isn’t. Writer/director Bo Widerberg (father of the actor who plays Stag) elevates the film far above the tawdry, cliched stereotypes, and instead All Things Fair is a serious, rather beautiful depiction of one teenager’s exposure to the ugliness of adult life. There’s a poignancy here that is both refreshing and bittersweet. The story hints at a sense of impending doom and the backdrop of WWII underscores this. While the war is far away, the effects of it are still present. Stig battles silently at home with moral dilemmas but the distant echoes of a world at war carry horrific ramifications. All Things Fair is in Swedish with English subtitles.
“Washing up is bourgeois.”
It’s 1975, and Together is the name of a commune in Sweden. Mild mannered Goran (Gustav Hammarstan) brings his sister, Elizabeth (Lisa Lindgren) and her two children to live at the commune after Elizabeth’s husband gives her a fat lip. The commune dwellers are all vegetarians, but they possess a range of political beliefs–there are hippies, a few gays, and a dedicated Marxist. Introducing a middle-aged housewife and her two children into this domestic arrangement upsets everyone.
Elizabeth’s two children, Eva (Emma Samuelsson) and Stefan (Sam Kessel) are appalled by life in the commune–there’s no television, no meat, and no war toys. Tet (named after the Tet Offensive), a child of a now estranged couple still in the commune drools over Stefan’s Lego, and the new children are seen as pollutants. The nosy, conservative middle-class neighbors across the street watch events at the commune using binoculars. They see the commune as some sort of haven for swingers.
Together is a mildly funny film–but that said, most of the humour is very dark and certainly won’t appeal to all viewers. Some of the humour comes from the children’s exposure to the ugliness of irresponsible adult behaviour. There’s an amusing irony to this because the children were yanked from one environment to avoid drunken violence, but they are thrown into other inappropriate situations at the commune too. I found several scenes amusing, but more than anything else, I felt sorry for the poor children–especially Eva who sits outside in the hippie bus for hours on end because she feels so uncomfortable in the commune. The bus becomes a neutral meeting ground for Eva and the little boy across the street–both feel uncomfortable and unwanted in their homes for different reasons. There’s a certain nostalgia value to the film–although this is fairly mild. The film’s message seems to be that humans always experience difficulty in relationships–perhaps the divisions originate in alcohol or politics, but the important thing is to learn to live together in spite of those divisions.
Together is from director Lukas Moodysson. The film is, unfortunately, not the same caliber as Moodysson’s wonderful Lilja 4-Ever. In Swedish with English subtitles.