Monday, 16 April 2007

F***ing Åmål (1998) - Lucas Moodysson




Varför är jag så dum? Varför älskar jag Elin? Jag hatar henne men jag älskar henne på samma gång. Jag älskar henne så att hjärtat nästan går sönder. Men det finns ingen som gjort mig så illa som hon. Hon spottar och trampar på mig och ändå älskar jag henne.


Show Me Love (the film's international title) s one of those films that wants to be about an awful lot, but ultimately covers very little in any real depth. The focus of the film is two girls - Elin and Agnes - who fall in and out of love with each other in the nondescript town of Åmål, a town where where nothing interesting happens, that is so far from the major cities that by the time a rend [like rave culture] reaches it it has already become unfashionable. From this frustration that these two girls feel towards their surroundings the film moves through passages on conformity, confusion and escapism before finally circling in on itself finishing on love.



The one standout feature of the film is the acting - both Alexandra Dahlström and Rebecka Liljeberg give incredible performances in the lead roles. Watching the film you never get the sense you are watching actors reading lines; they deliver the dialogue with such conviction and often, emotional intensity, that the line between fiction and reality often seems thin. However, that's where it ends really in terms of what is superb about the film - the problems are numerous, starting with the narrative's attempts at realism. Incredible performances are just one ingredient in making the story believable, so it is a pity that the look of the film (so in-your-face i couldn't not write about it) is - for lack of a better adjective - horrible. The film itelf is a grainy Super 16 stock that, i assume, was cheap but does neither the plot or the work of the crew any favours. In an age where HD and Blu Ray are delivering the most detailed pictures yet seen on a tv set i'm not wholly adverse to films shot on 16mm or even 8mm, but if a director is going to shoot in such a medium he should be well aware of its advantages and limitations first.



Jacque Tati's Play Time for instance, was shot on 75mm, thus the whole film has in its staging and set design, and extraordinary sense of depth and magnitude; in Derek Jarman's 16mm films, particularly Sebastiane the use of light is often exemplary. Lucas Moodysson, with cinematographer Ulf Brantås has not, in my opinion, used the medium to anywhere near its fullest. The way 16mm stock reacts to light is significantly different to 35mmm, but Show Me Love is lit and largely shot as if 35mm stock was being used, Jarman made great use of natural light in both Sebastiane and Jubilee whereas Moodysson uses an almost entirely artifical lighting scheme. In itself this isn't a problem but i found the way the possibilities of what 16mm can offer are overlooked frustrating in the extreme. Filters are used an awful lot in the film to give it that recognisable look, but it's hardly the best use of filters i've ever seen - Kieslowski's The Double Life Of Véronique would be one of my picks for that particular title. So all-in-all, the sublime acting is lit poorly through filters that don't always appear to have a narrative function, and shot on a shaky handheld camera using grainy stock that does nobody any favours whatsoever. I don't even want to go into the annoying way that the camera constantly zooms into and out of the frame without rhyme or reason.



If the look of the film is bad however, it's nothing compared to the disapointment at the treatment of the film's central themes. A user on IMDB said in a conversation we were having about this film, "I think maybe you have to be Swedish to fully appreciate the biting realism in setting, dialogue and characters in the film.". A fair point indeed but shouldn't a film for a wider international audience be more accessible than that? A teenager from Sweden, particularly a teenage girl, would instantly be able to associate with the characters but for the rest of us there's little hope in the film i fear. Personally, i put this down to thin character writing and a plot that, in the end, simply goes through the standard confused-teen cinematic clichés of sexuality and intoxication. I say "thin character writing" because we really know nothing about the two girl aside from them being Swedish, and one of them having a family. There are scenes in which it is suggested that both girls have problems comunicating to their families, either becuase of the generation gap or because of some other underlying problem bt with such a lack of clarity one had to assume this is either wonderfully ambiguous, or simply very poor. The film does, towards the end, try to draw some parallels between the escapsim offered by drugs and alcohol and the escapism offered by intimacy - or perhaps love.



The comparison could have made for a very interesting film indeed but any attempt at linking the two is only half-hearted at best, and at worst tragic. There is one scene in particular that stands out for being so unbelievably rediculous where one of the girls is trying to commit suicide only to be interrupted by the girl she's in love with. Having been interrupted her mood changes completely; suddenly she's happy and joyous - and somehow a cloth wrapped around her wrist stops the bleeding? Even in the film's conclusion, when love appears to have been found one can't help but question it. The girls clearly aren't comfortable with each other, or indeed anyone else and as the credits start one woders if their whole relationship is just an attempt to grab some attention. This attention-seeking take on the film would certainly fit with the suicide attempt, the reputation one girl has for being a slut, the drinking and aaccompanying exhibitionism and the constant showing-off in front of peers that fills the film. Perhaps, ultimately this film is saying !Show Me Love!" but realises that in the fickle world of adolescence that love, in the adult sense of the word is simply not possible - in which case it's measurably more cyncical than i initially gave it credit for; and is probably a little harsher on its subjects than even i think it should be.



Cynically nihilistic with a shallow romantic facade, this film that plays out like an elongated soap opera episode does have some bite hidden amongst the cliches though in the end I really can't say that i care that much about anything it has to say (or thinks it has to say). 6/10

PS

A quick look on youtube produced this trailer:

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