Review: Fucking Åmål (dir Lukas Moodysson)

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written a long long time ago.]

Fucking Åmål, retitled Show Me Love for more sensitive markets such as the USA and the UK, is Swedish poet and novelist Lukas Moodysson’s debut feature, and already the biggest Swedish film of all time. The film follows Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) who, even after 18 months in the provincial town of Åmål with her family, still has no friends, and Elin (Alexandra Dahlström) who is sick of the fact that by the time something is ‘in’ in ‘fucking’ Åmål, it is ‘out’ everywhere else, and is also keen to rid herself of her virginity.

Agnes is having a 16th birthday party and, for want of anything better to do, Elin and her sister Jessica (Erica Carlson) turn up having made a bet that Elin wouldn’t dare to kiss Agnes who, it is rumoured, is a lesbian. Elin manages to kiss Agnes and then disappears without realising that Agnes has a crush on her.

The rest of the film centres less on Agnes’ growing confidence in public knowledge of her sexuality, than on the confusion within Elin on her unexpected and reciprocal feelings for Agnes and whether to act on them or not.

For a film that has enjoyed such critical and commercial success, Show Me Love has been criticised in some quarters for a perceived shallowness – not an unusual accusation for films that purport to deal with or portray youth. What is so striking about the film however, is its realistic observation of youths and their provincial boredom; Moodysson seems at times to be filming the youths’ parties and interactions with the skill of a wildlife documentarist. He captures the chaos and thoughtlessness of teenage parties, the cruelty and capriciousness of popularity contests, the gaps that rise up between parents and their children and the fact that not all teenagers develop and ‘grow’ and the intense despair of provincial boredom.

Moodysson also indicates that teenagers are not often that sophisticated in their tastes, provincial teenagers less so, nor are they usually that dextrous when trying to make a point. As a result, the choice of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ as the song to which the two girls kiss manages to ring true. Moodysson also shows a delicately sure touch when portraying homophobia, in one scene letting Oskar (Axel Widegren), Agnes’ little brother, bring it to his mother’s initially liberal attention that his elder sister is apparently a lesbian. The only scene that falls flat comes at the end where the girls come out of the (water) closet, a scene conceived purely to allow weak puns in reviews.

The director is helped throughout by a largely first-time cast, with Liljeberg and Dahlström both excellent and, among the supporting cast, Carlson and Mathias Rust (as the meathead with whom Elin tries to cement her heterosexuality after she dreams of Agnes), give notably good performances. Show Me Love, despite its bum note resolution (which it manages to recover from in the very last scene), is an enjoyable 90 minutes, at times excruciatingly so, and comes strongly recommended.

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