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Lukas Moodysson is a Swedish director famed for his brutal, documentary-style approach to filmmaking—capturing some controversial aspects of life with desperate realism. Some of his films are easily comparable to the works of Ken Loach or Larry Clarke and similarly his movies may not be to everyone’s taste and will possibly appeal to few—but they are still commonly regarded as poignant statements about the horrors of real—often teenage—life. Here we get a collection of four of his main features, capturing, in turn, the troubles associated with ‘coming out’, the ups and downs of life in a seventies free-living commune, an abandoned child’s struggle in Russia and finally a boy’s struggle for survival while his dad films a degrading porn movie in the living room. None of them sound very appealing, but often—as in the case with depressing movies like Bjork’s debut, Dancer in the Dark—the pain of watching is worth it in the end.

4 Films by Lukas Moodysson
Films
Show Me Love (1998)

Show Me Love is about Agnes, a troubled teenage girl whose normal adolescent life is disturbed irreparably by rumours that she may be a lesbian. However, the rumours are not unfounded. She lusts after a senior classmate—the sexy, popular, but somewhat shallow Erin—who is too busy admiring herself to give time to her admirers, be they male or female. On her birthday, Agnes’ parents throw her a seemingly unsuccessful party—where initially no one turns up—but when Erin and her friend Jessica pop in on their way to another party, Agnes gets a big birthday surprise that may or may not be what exactly what she wanted.

What evolves is a tale about life and growing up, love and sexuality and the harsh, unforgiving scorn that personal differences can evoke in immature teenagers who, as is often the case, have their own issues to deal with. The only thing these teenagers have in common with one another is a yearning to leave their tiny, dull, hometown. The young cast are all simply superb—from Rebecca Liljeberg as the honest innocent Agnes, to Alexandra Dahlstrom as the confused older girl, Erin. It is a strikingly honest look at teenage life—comparable to Larry Clark’s Kids—and although sometimes it can be quite depressing in striving to stay ‘real’ (even if the ending seemed slightly unlikely), it is an accomplished first movie by Moodysson, and one of the better of this collection.

Together (2000)

In 1970s Sweden, Elisabeth (Linda Lindgren), after one strike too many, decides to uproot her children and escape from her aggressive, abusive, alcoholic husband Rolf (Michael Nyquist). She moves into her little brother Goran’s (Gustaf Hammarsten) commune, ‘Together’, a supposedly happy group of half a dozen free-thinkers who actually already have enough problems of their own. Although purportedly one big happy family, the commune is rife with jealousy, understandably since free loving here means sleeping with anybody and everybody—whether or not it is to the dismay of your ‘regular’ partner. This jealousy, along with some seriously misguided ideas about morality and society, manifests itself in bitter daily squabbling about the least important things: from washing up to going to university.

Moodysson’s second movie is a much more ensemble effort, with an interesting cast playing some real characters. There’s Goran, who is probably a little too kind-hearted for his own good, especially putting up with Lena—who preaches her love for him but openly sleeps with another flatmate, Erik, for satisfaction. Erik is a little deluded and seems to just want to talk—often discussing his great dreams about creating a builder’s revolt amongst his work-mates and overthrowing the bank they are working on—foolishly thinking that this might change who whole of society. Then you have Anna, whose therapy has led her to believe that she is a lesbian and who sets her signs on Elisabeth as soon as she moves in—much to the dismay of her ex-husband, Lasse, who lives in the commune as well. It is a recipe for disaster putting all of these people under one roof, but it’s not as if the people in the outside world are doing any better—the disbelieving neighbours spy over the proceedings through their binoculars, derisive of the commune but clearly not all that happy themselves. We even get a little cameo from Sten Ljunggren, the star of Moodysson’s short film, Talk (which is an extra feature on the first disc, Show Me Love), reprising his role as a lonely middle-aged man searching for companionship.

Moodysson has painted another poignant picture of one element of society—thankfully picking a nominally happier one than in some of his other movies. The acting is generally superb and startlingly natural and this one is definitely worth your time.

Lilya-4-Ever (2002)

Lilya is a young Russian girl who is eagerly anticipating moving to the States with her mother. She dreams of how amazing it will be in America, sick and tired of living in her poor Soviet suburb, but when her mother decides to go on ahead of her, Lilya soon realises that it was a trick and that her mother was never going to return. Abandoned, with no money and no job—she is still at school—and then forced to move into a much worse apartment by the spiteful old landlady, Lilya has to grow up overnight and all alone. After an impromptu party, she realises that she doesn’t even have any real friends and strikes up a relationship with an eleven-year-old boy who lives in the same estate and similarly dreams of leaving the horrible area.

4 Films by Lukas Moodysson
The two share their dreams about the future and pain at the world they live in, forming a bond that prevents both of them from going over the edge, but Lilya’s other supposed friends still suck her into a world that she does not want to be a part of. After the rumours start out that she is selling herself as a prostitute—all because one of her friends blamed her for her own actions—Lilya’s life takes a turn for the worst and it was already at a stage when she didn’t think it could get any worse. Still, she has Volodya and their dreams, so she tries to survive as best as she can despite all life throws at her—and boy does it throw some hell her way. The trouble is that her dreams blind her to some of the harsh truths of reality and she cannot continue escaping from what is happening in her life, but by the time she realises this she is in way over her head with nowhere to go but down.

At times hard to watch, this is still easily my favourite of the movies in the collection, capturing the essence of the spirit for survival and distilling it into a heart-breaking tale of the horrors that can befall a child in the very world we live in. The two main actors deserve most of the praise because the movie centres on them—and they are simply magnificent. Oksana Akinshina is pretty but powerful, strong but vulnerable as the lead, Lilya, a role which many her age and even older could not pull off. Artiom Bogucharski does not have his work cut out for him like Oksana, but still fares well at an even younger age as the boy, Volodya. All in all it is a remarkable film and it is alone worth the price of the box set.

A Hole in My Heart (2004)

A Hole in My Heart is the tale of Eric (Bjorn Almroth), the son of Rikard, a porn director (Thorsten Flinck), who spends his days either spying on his dad’s latest action or trying to get away from it. Shy and insecure, he clearly hates what is going on, but at the same time is painfully intrigued. The latest porn production, starring the gorgeous twenty-one year old Tess (Sanna Brading) and Rikard’s friend Geko (Goran Marjanovic) as the male lead, is slowly evolving in the back room and Eric has to contend with the participants who largely give him no regard. As their behaviour gets worse—more and more indecent, deviant and positively disturbing—Eric himself contemplates taking drastic measures, with a noose at the ready hanging from his ceiling.

One of his most graphic works—you see practically every part of every person’s anatomy in the opening few seconds and then throughout—this is also his least accessible film and stating both of those things about a Moodysson film is really saying something and not necessarily a good thing. It plays almost like a documentary about making a porn movie, shot in camcorder documentary style, with equally graphic dialogue. The only thing missing is the glamour as normally documentaries about the porn industry on TV are trying to paint said industry in a positive light. Here it is just too damn frank to be exciting on any level but I guess that is a good thing when you consider what Moodysson was probably trying to achieve.

Unfortunately, the sheer bleak reality and depressing relentlessness of the story simply makes it very difficult to watch and impossible to like. What you have is shots of ‘unnatural’ and barely simulated sex, mixed with shots of the participants wandering around absolutely stark naked and close ups of genitalia, all interspliced with footage of various forms of surgery taking place, all the while set to dialogue about the three. Although played very well, none of the characters are in the least bit likeable—not the inwardly insecure but outwardly macho male lead, nor the self-mutilating in-over-her-head female, nor even the innocent shy son caught up in the middle of this but unwilling to do anything about it. The end result of this is a movie that you don’t want to have your eyes or ears open during—a movie which no one will enjoy seeing. Does it have a purpose, a message or a point? Probably, but aside from the obvious hatred the director clearly feels towards the porn industry—which can be gleamed within the first few minutes—there is little else to gain from watching it. Some might argue that chastising the porn industry is enough of a message, but I did not find this to be the case, I just found the movie distasteful on every level without any significant redeeming purpose.

4 Films by Lukas Moodysson
Video
Show Me Love gets the worst treatment of all of the movies, not least because it was Moodysson’s first and the source material was probably not in the best condition. I think that his style of filming is similar to that of a basic, gritty, grainy documentary—probably in order to retain that sense of realism—so what you have here is probably exactly what Moodysson wanted. That said, the picture quality is absolutely abysmal by anybody’s standards. It is dark, grimy, low contrast with a heavy layer of grain running over it. The detail is okay and the colours are reasonably well represented, but other than that it is a terrible picture. It comes as no surprise—considering the quality—that this is also the only film in this collection presented with a non-anamorphic transfer.

Together is almost as bad in presentation, although it does benefit from being presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The grain is slightly less imposing and the contrast has been raised to almost normal. The detail is good and the colour range is both wide and well represented. Without losing his documentary-style, Moodysson has managed to make a much more acceptable picture—visually—but it is far from great by normal standards.

Lilya-4-Ever is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer that looks extremely good. The clarity is decent throughout, with no sign of edge enhancement and very little grain indeed. The colour scheme is quite diverse—considering the various locations captured—and always represented well, and the black levels are also quite good. There is occasional softness, and it is not exactly a benchmark transfer, but it is one of the best here and none of the problems ever detract from your viewing pleasure.

A Hole in My Heart is presented in another 1.78:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer that is probably the best—in terms of representation—of this collection. It is ironic really, since this is clearly the one that is hardest, nigh on impossible, to watch. There is very little noticeable grain, and the detail is good at all times, with good contrast and a perfectly natural colour representation. Blacks are solid and there are almost no complains about it that do not relate to the frantic, frenzied disturbing content itself. Shooting it handheld does not make it any easier to watch but, as transfers go, this one is not bad at all.

Audio
Show Me Love gets as bad a soundtrack as it has a transfer, with a barely acceptable two-channel Dolby Digital Stereo mix that is distinctly lacklustre. At least the dialogue is relatively clear, but there are almost no effects and there is certainly no bass. The occasional ‘80s pop tracks from bands like Foreigner provide the only real effort, but even then it is still limited by the stereo provision to merely the frontal array. The track is in the original Swedish language with optional English subtitles.
Together has a slightly more intense soundtrack, perhaps because there are more Abba tracks populating the background or perhaps because there are more people shouting at each other almost constantly. Dialogue is clear, again there is a distinct lack of effects coverage and no bass, but with the few tracks and the almost constant chat, you barely notice the soundtrack’s inadequacy. The track is in the original Swedish language with optional English subtitles.

Lilya-4-Ever is presented with two mixes: a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The first is clearly the better, but that is not saying a great deal. You will notice from the opening scenes the use of heavy German Rammstein-style music which dominates the front channels but does not even touch the rears. Still, the dialogue is always clear and coherent and the soundtrack is quite interesting and active—certainly the best of those on the collection here—featuring a great deal of uplifting trance tracks. The stereo mix is only marginally different considering that in both cases the rears get very little to do. This time the language for the tracks is the original Russian with optional English subtitles.

A Hole in My Heart is also presented with two mixes: a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The first is again clearly the better, although it still leaves a lot to be desired. The dialogue is clear, the effects and frenzied random noises that occur allow for some directionality, and the occasional musical interludes allow for some rear action. The stereo mix is almost the same, except obviously with no sound from the rears, and neither will win any awards, but the material does not allow for excellence. The tracks are once again in the original Swedish language with optional English subtitles.

4 Films by Lukas Moodysson
Extras
Show Me Love

The only extra on Show Me Love is Moodysson’s first short film, Talk, which is about a lonely and somewhat disturbed middle-age man (Sten Ljunggren) who goes to unexpectedly extreme lengths to find companionship. Although fairly primitive, and extremely short—little over a quarter of an hour in length—it does show Moodysson’s keen eye for reality and poignant desire to expose sour, controversial aspects of society.

Together

The extras on Together are very rudimentary, with just a forty-five second trailer that gives you a taste of the movie, a filmography of the director (which gives more of a biography with stats and music tastes etc.) and a six-page text interview with the director. During the interview, he does mention his disdain for the film industry and how—if he felt himself being sucked into it—he would make a film that nobody will like, something which I think he achieved with his latest, A Hole in My Heart.

Lilya-4-Ever

First up we get a ninety-minute interview with the director, filmed as part of the Guardian reader’s film festival. Moodysson is interviews live about his start in the film industry and what drives him. He talks about his poetry and his passion, his dislike for the film industry per se and specifics about his movies—from Show Me Love through to Lilya. Many of his ideas were spawned from his own experiences as a child—which is a little worrying—and he seems genuinely driven to create movies with a message. It is a very interesting interview but the sound quality is low, and the director is prone to mumbling which does not help. It is also slightly overlong, which is not helped by the director’s rambling, but the end result is a piece worth watching but probably better digested in segments. The Lukas Moodysson trailer showcases two of the movies in this collection with a cracking trailer to Lilya-4-Ever along with the same trailer for Together that we saw on the previous disc. Next up we get a short film from UNICEF, entitled ‘More Precious than Gold’. Unfortunately it is narrated by Robbie Williams so I found it the single hardest thing to watch on the disc, but if you turn the sound off then what you get is a worthy video about starving children in Africa. Finally we get an Amnesty International Appeal promotional video—thankfully not narrated by Robbie Williams—which showcases some of the horrors that are happening in Chechnya, including some terrible tales of mass murder.

A Hole in My Heart

First up we get ‘A Hole in My Second Heart’, a sixteen-minute behind the scenes documentary of them filming the characters filming the porn movie. At times it is difficult to see whether this is actually a really frank documentary about the production or a mockumentary that continues in the same vein as the main feature but it would appear to me to be the former. Although all of the actors talk using their character names and seemingly in character, their discussions are with Moodysson himself about what he wants them to do for the movie and from this footage it certainly does not look like any of them enjoyed making this film at all. The ‘Lukas Moodyson Masterclass’ runs at twenty-six minutes in length and features a series of off-screen questions being answered—in English—by Moodysson. The questions all revolve around his love for film, how he got into it and the history behind A Hole in My Heart, but many of the more historical questions were already answered in the overlong Guardian interview on Lilya-4-Ever. Still, it is interesting to hear some new titbits like how his love for directing has now made it impossible for him to enjoy another person’s movie without dissecting it and wondering if he could have filmed it that way, or even if he could have filmed it better. This is a nice little interview in which Moodysson discusses many interesting aspects of his life in film. The A Hole in My Heart trailer is about forty-five seconds long and sums up the movie fairly well without giving that much away—not that there is that much to give away. Finally the Director’s Statement is an eight-page text-based offering that reads as part of the diary of Moodysson. As such, it is almost as depressing as the movie itself, showing him to be very honest though all-but mentally ill, even by his own admission. I guess he should be acknowledged for allowing the public to read such a personal diatribe about his thoughts and feelings but it will take a hardened mind not to be a little disturbed after reading them.

4 Films by Lukas Moodysson
Overall
Moodysson is clearly not a director who makes films to everybody’s tastes. In some cases—particularly his last movie—he does not appeal to anybody, but overall he is very capable of capturing a freeze-frame of one aspect of our society and dissecting it cleverly. My favourite of this collection is easily Lilya-4-Ever but both Show Me Love and Together offer strong arguments for second. If you can handle your movies being painfully realistic and sometimes even achingly easy to relate to then Moodysson is clearly worthy of your attention. This set retails at a lower price than you would expect for four films of such quality, so even if you don’t like them all, it is still a bargain—and how can you not applaud Lilya-4-Ever? Of course, if you’re already a fan of Moodysson—or even Ken Loach or Larry Clark—it is most definitely a no-brainer.


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