Monday 1 December 2014

Vi är bäst!

One of the things that connect many of Lukas Moodysson’s previous works, especially Fucking Åmål and Lilja 4-ever, is its portrayal of adolescents navigating a world that was not built by, or for them. In Fucking Åmål, Elin and Agnes have to negotiate the politics of going to school, being stuck with the people in their town, and only having their own families as a blueprint for what kind of life is possible – they’ll likely leave, once they’re old enough, but for now, all they can do is try and imagine themselves in a different future. In Lilja-4-ever, the world portrayed, and the adults inhabiting it, are much darker, and prey on children and young women by exploiting the fact that the world does not afford them any power of their own – and the only available escape is much more devastating. In both cases, Moodysson takes the plight of his protagonists very seriously, and contrasts it with the, at best, cluelessness of the adults (Agnes’s father, delivering a “it gets better” speech when Agnes so desperately needs things to be better now), at worst, they’re self-centred, immoral and evil. The divide between the adults and adolescents is impossible to overcome, and once someone crosses over, the issues that the kids have to deal with seem distant. Once people grow up, they seem to forget what they went through themselves. Moodysson seems capable of travelling back and being genuine about the experience rather than changing it in retrospect, and he always tells his stories not from a position of nostalgia for something lost but with a genuine anger and fury about the world and awe and gentleness for his protagonists, making their way through it. 
Vi Är Bäst is a culmination of all these things. It is based on a graphic novel that Coco Moodysson wrote, so it’s not his original material, but it fits his skills perfectly. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are outcasts in their school and outcasts in the time and place they were born into; the place is Stockholm the time is the early 1980s. They are both adhering to the aesthetic and the politics of punk music, in a time that is unstoppably moving towards new wave and worse, disco and metal. Their parents, teachers and responsible elders have no way of comprehending the importance of the distinction, the way that music isn’t just about music, but identity, and shapes their understanding of the world. They can’t help but feel ostracised in a place that insists that punk is dead, because for them, the ideals of punk, articulating political and personal resistance, is central to how they understand their own position. The adults who should be responsible for them fail them utterly, and the film follows them through their days, where every interaction with a parent isn’t nurturing or helpful, but merely an obstacle in the way of being able to spend more time with each other and on the things they love doing. They stumble across a new outlet for their joy, anger and creativity more accidentally than not, when a conflict in a youth centre leads them to start playing music, just to keep a metal band of bullying older teenage boys from being able to play. They don’t actually know how to play their instruments, but they certainly do their best to create noise and be heard, and soon formulate a plan to become the best band in the world. It all falls into place when they realize, during a painful yet captivating school talent contest performance by another girl (suffering all the abuse of the other kids while making her way through a beautiful guitar piece), that they could apply all their punk politics to another person. Klara sets her mind on politically indoctrinating Hedvig, who is so much an outcast that she doesn’t even have a Bobo of her own to rely on, and is growing up in a strict religious household. As a way of repaying for her enlightenment, she argues, Hedvig could maybe show them how to play chords (what are chords?) and things. 
The film allows each of its main characters to shine: Bobo is quiet and struggling with the fact that her best friend always gets all the attention (even her hair is wrong). Klara is headstrong and confrontational, never shies back from a fight, and articulate about her ideas. Hedvig soon becomes the emotional glue (and mother figure in a film lacking helpful parental units) between them, finding herself in the process of playing with them and applying her musical genius to the band’s new hit song, Hater sport, which connects their hatred for sport with a wider societal critique of caring about something as minor as sports while terrible things happen in the world. A year older than the other two and cherishing the fact that she has finally found friends, she intervenes successfully when the relationship between Klara and Bobo becomes more complicated (as both of them fall for the same boy). Hedvig insists that their friendship and their music should be more important than anything else, and the film sides with her. 
There are several points in We Are the Best where a situation seems to veer out of control, the idea of a greater drama looming – Bobo’s self-hatred (much like Agnes’, in Fucking Åmål) sometimes threatening to overshadow everything, adventures perhaps ending badly, but Moodysson never goes there. He makes the viewers aware of the possible dangers but at the same time affords his protagonists the freedom to venture freely, with the worst thing that does happen being a cut hand, a venturing towards the edge of a rooftop, a broken heart, abuse thrown at them as they make the stage their own. It’s a genuine portrayal of what adolescence often is: more dangerous things looming (and also being used by adults to keep their kids safe, but also, to an extent, away from having experiences that they might need to grow), but never actually happening. The three are pure punk: they grab their instruments and play, they claim that space on stage, and they create the perfect, exhilarating, joyful, angry 1:30 song against everything that tries to keep them quiet. 

2013, directed by Lukas Moodysson, starring Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne.

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