Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mira Barkhammar, Liv LeMoyne, Mira Grosin, David Dencik, Jonathan Salomonsson, Lena Nylén, Mads Korsgaard, Steve Kratz, Mattias Wiberg, Per Fenger-Krog, Ann-Sofie Rase, Henrik Dahl, Berndt Östman, Vanja Engström, Ylva Olaison
Written by: Lukas Moodysson, based on a story by Coco Moodysson
Directed by: Lukas Moodysson
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 05/30/2014

We Are the Best! (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bastards of Young

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson had a promising beginning with the teen lesbian drama Show Me Love (1999), and the hippie commune story Together (2000), and then took it up a notch with the devastating Lilya 4-Ever (2002). Then he made several films that didn't seem to get much distribution 'round these parts. Now he's at last back with We Are the Best!.

This new film seems like a throwback to something simpler, but it also clarifies what Moodysson has been most interested in all along: lost, abandoned or misunderstood children. Rather than a throwback, then, We Are the Best! seems like his clearest vision to date.

Based on a comic by Moodysson's wife Coco, the movie follows two young teens, best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin). It's the early 1980s, and though they have been told "punk is dead," they decide to form their own punk band, despite the fact that they don't know how to play any instruments.

Bobo is the kind of kid that most of us probably were, shy, unsure, hesitant. She has attempted her own version of a punk haircut, but it looks more like a short, fuzzy bottle brush than anything radical or outrageous. (Her little glasses don't help her look much, either.) Klara is the kind of friend that most of us probably had, daring and confident; Klara has an actual punk hairdo, a mohawk. Klara is the instigator, comes up with all the great ideas, and sets them in motion.

They recruit a third girl, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), who is an outcast at school because of her Christianity, and because she's made to play classical guitar during the school talent recitals. Hedvig helps the girls shape their raw lyrics, entitled "Hate the Sport," into an actual song.

Trouble comes when Bobo and Klara give Hedvig her own punk haircut, hacking off her long blonde tresses, and then must face Hedvig's mother. Worse is when they girls spontaneously visit some boys from a local punk band, and jealousies are aroused when both Bobo and Klara like the same boy. The finale involves the group's live debut.

In a lesser movie, these events would have been blown into big, weepy melodrama, but Moodysson keeps the moments intimate and fleeting. The film is interested only in a given moment. It's realistic, but it only uses its realism in order to get closer to real emotions. The camera captures seemingly everyday interactions and conflicts, but also manages to capture deeper emotions and meanings at the same time, as if an accident or an afterthought. Nothing is forced.

For example, the film never comes out and says that Bobo is an abandoned child, but in just a few brief scenes with her mother, we understand exactly why she feels so alone. Her mother is clearly more interested in dating other men than in spending time with her daughter. In one heartbreaking scene, the mother comes home early from a date, having been dumped. Bobo sees it as a chance to bond with her mother, offering help, but the mother instead asks for the phone. In a very quick shot, Moodysson shows her pouring her heart out to some unseen friend, leaving Bobo alone. It's enough to get the picture.

Another great thing about the movie is that it's not a rise-to-success story. In virtually every other movie about the forming of a band, the goal is to get a record contract and become rich and famous. Here, the girls are interested mainly in being heard. In the big, climactic show, their music doesn't come across so well, but their message does, and it's a triumph. Moodysson's film is a triumph as well.

Magnolia released the Blu-ray edition, which looks about as great as a low-fi movie like this possibly could. There are no extras other than a batch of trailers (but no trailer for this movie).

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