There seems to be something problematic about all movies that try to tell globe-spanning stories that demonstrate the interlinked nature of our lives in the contemporary, globalised era. Between Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, France/USA/Mexico, 2006), 360 (Fernando Meirelles, UK/Austria/France/Brazil, 2011), and Lukas Moodysson’s own Mammoth (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009), each film ends up being slightly disappointing – as if trying to take on too much for a single film to depict (globalisation/the globe), while at the same ticking boxes concerning class difference/economic status, such that they seem disingenuous. That is, mobile and wealthy filmmakers trot the globe while at the same time asking us to think about what globe-trotting really means (regardless of a filmmaker’s no doubt ‘good’ intentions).
Prior to Mammoth, Moodysson’s directed two intriguing – if very difficult to watch – digital films in Ett hål i mitt hjärta/A Hole in My Heart (Sweden/Denmark, 2004) and Container (Sweden, 2006). These certainly polarised audiences, such that viewers might begin to wonder – with three arguably duff films on the bounce (personally I really like A Hole in My Heart, and I teach it every year and have written about it here) – whether Lukas Moodysson is really a decent filmmaker at all.
However, the two films with which he made his reputation – Fucking Åmål/Show Me Love (Sweden/Denmark, 1998) and Tillsammans/Together (Sweden/Denmark/Italy, 2000) – demonstrated such warmth and humanity that the pessimism that followed – inaugurated by his harrowing human traffic film, Lilja 4-Ever/Lilya 4-Ever (Sweden/Denmark, 2002) – seemed somewhat uncharacteristic.
Or rather, his pessimism became characteristic, meaning that the deep love that Moodysson showed for his characters in those early films seemed lost – even if my contention is that Moodysson in fact shows great love towards his most unlovely characters in A Hole in My Heart.
We Are The Best!, however, sees Moodysson back on top form. The film tells the story of two punk girls, Bobo (Mira Barkhammer) and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), who decide to form a punk group with the help of a local Christian girl, Klara (Mira Grosin).
The film is by turns cute and smart as the characters, Bobo in particular, say things that are wicked funny and intelligent, and way beyond the ken of many/all children of her age in the UK with regard to political astuteness, the role of punk in society and so on.
What is most pleasing about the film is its embracing of those who fail while performing – namely our girls in their punk trio. That is, Moodysson is not interested in fairy tales and happy endings, but more with what being in a band provides for young women growing up in Sweden in the aftermath of punk. Instead there is a kind of ‘creative chaos’ – that is characteristic of punk itself, and which gives us insight perhaps into Moodysson’s own work.
That is, while any or all of Moodysson’s films might be disappointing to some (many) audiences, what is great about his work is that he is prepared to try and thus also to fail. And he loves his characters, who themselves try and also fail, as if failure itself is what defines us as human. This most palpable here when Bobo, Hedvig and Klara perform their first concert.
Rather than the enormous success that we would expect of a mainstream film, their gig is in fact chaotic, half a success, half a failure. The same goes for the girls’ love lives, and more or less every other plan that they hatch and try to put into action. It is this ‘creative chaos’ that really brings We Are The Best! to life, and which demonstrates Moodysson’s love for his characters.
Imperfect though his films are, then, Moodysson himself is a cineaste who evidently loves filmmaking, who experiments, and who is prepared to fail, since in failure his films become learning experiences that allow him to grow and learn as a human being.
If Mammoth disappointed me, it was perhaps because – like the other ‘globalisation’ films mentioned above – its pretense to omniscience is, precisely, too knowing. Moodysson works best when approaching the world through the eyes of those who do not really know what they are doing. A return to his best form, We Are The Best! sees Moodysson embrace the way in which life may be performative, but it is also an improvisation – and even though characters ‘fail’, they also succeed, since it is in not knowing what we are supposed to do, or how we are supposed to lead our lives, but in going forward and leading them in our way as best as we can anyway that we truly become ourselves, become alive.