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Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson taps into the feminine punk-rock spirit of Pussy Riot in his latest film about three teenage girls standing against the adult world
Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best! is a return to the territory of Show Me Love and Together, which is why it is both completely wonderful and also slightly disappointing. Part of me couldn’t help but feel that We Are The Best! lacks some of the daring originality of Show Me Love. However it makes up for this with the utter joie de vivre of the three leads, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), Klara (Mira Grosin) and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) who inhabit the cusp of teenagerhood with equal amounts of rebelliousness and innocence. Bobo, the more thoughtful and introspective character has the soulful face of Giuletta Masina in La Strada. Klara is a little stick of punk rock dynamite, and Hedvig’s handsome coolness is reminiscent of a young Liv Ullmann. The film is watchable for these stellar performances alone.
As with his two first films, We Are The Best! is a feel good film that is also insightful and political. Bobo and Klara with their short spikey hair and fledgling political beliefs are outcasts who want nothing to do with the lip-glossed bimbos in their class. In a funny twist they manage to wrest rehearsal space from a Spinal Tap-style metal band who forget to write their names down on the booking sheet of the local youth club. This bureaucratic slip-up allows the girls access to a drum set and a guitar, which they have no idea how to play.
They recruit Hedvig, a fellow classmate and Christian classical guitar-playing prodigy. Bobo is sure Hedvig can inject some musicality into their band, but Klara is worried by the girl’s devout beliefs. She eventually shrugs off any concern with the certainty that they will “influence her away from God”. Their plan works. Suddenly Bobo’s drum banging and Klara’s screeching over a few strums of out-of-tune guitar begin to take shape as Hedvig helps them form their anthem ‘Hate Sport’ into a punky piece of musical protest against gym class.
The one bit of plotting comes when the nameless band is invited to play at the ‘Santa Rock’ Christmas concert in Västerås (a provincial town outside Stockholm). They accept along with the metal band they gazumped earlier at the youth centre. Shouts of “You’re so ugly” and “Communist whore cunts!” are launched at them and in response they change their lyrics from “Hate Sport” to “Hate Västerås” and are thrown out. The cri de coeur that runs throughout the film that “Punk is not dead” is lived out here in a true moment of triumph. Their budding feminist selves have prevailed over a roomful of misogyny. Moodysson gently has a go at provincial attitudes as he did with Show Me Love (whose original title after all was Fucking Åmål) and yet does it with such deftness and lightness it never feels nasty.
Moodysson creates a world in which children are the wise ones and adults are clueless, self-absorbed and out of touch. This works to a degree. The yearning of our heroines to grow up is palpable and yet there are no specimens of adult life that they might in any way want to emulate, which is a standard trope of teen fiction. Although to most thirteen year olds all adults are basically idiots, I would have liked Moodysson to inject some nuance into this view. Where he gives the teenagers complexity, he ridicules the adults. And perhaps he intends to convey the loss of spirit as children morph into adults. Either way it gets laughs but feels at times a bit thin.
Like every one of Moodysson’s films, this one looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. Shot by Ulf Brantas, the colours, the compositions and the light are seductive without being sentimental. As a period piece the sets are not exaggerated. We know we are in the 80s without being bashed over the head with it. Based on Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel Never Goodnight, We Are The Best! has at its heart a proto-Pussy Riot feeling that punk is a political statement and that girls need to be part of it. Bobo, Klara and Hedvig are fighting against the prevailing mindset that only boys can have a voice, and this adds to the film’s urgency.
Moodysson has made a film that highlights the selfishness of the adult world and the innocence and fragility of children. And yet, what he seems to forget is that all these bourgeois, superficial, damaged grown-ups were once young. They are not aberrations, and their awfulness is nothing more than the result of living in an imperfect world. Minor quibble aside, this is a soulful, unpretentious and optimistic film that delves into what it’s like to be thirteen with total honesty. It may seem slight, and yet by conveying the pain and beauty of growing up, We Are The Best! captures perfectly that fleeting yet glorious moment just before adulthood takes us under its wing.