Hail all things Scandinavian. When it comes to the moving image, the Nordic countries seem to have a higher output of cool, acclaimed work and artists than any other region in the world right now. Well, it regularly finds itself plundered by Hollywood, if that’s any mark of success.
Swedish director Lukas Moodysson is one such auteur, whose continuing work is set to secure him a place amongst the Nordic greats. Having penned and helmed the startling, daring underground films Together (2000), Lilya 4-Ever (2002) and A Hole In My Heart (2004), he’s no stranger to dark and controversial subject matter. So his latest film, We Are The Best!, seems something of an anomaly.
- - -
We Are The Best!, trailer
- - -
A sweet comedy drama based on his wife’s comic book, Never Goodnight, We Are The Best! marks a departure for Moodysson. But if there’s a single trait by which you can define him, it’s his opposition to being pigeonholed, and he’d surely hate being lumped in with any movement or scene. He tells Clash what it was that compelled him to make this uplifting movie – and it wasn’t a cut and dried, conscious desire to take on an upbeat, happy project.
“When I was thinking about making this film, there was something really terrible that happened quite close to me. I felt [initially] that it was something I had to make a film about. But in a world where such terrible things were happening, I decided I wasn’t going to make a film about that: I’m going to make a film about something happy instead.”
Conversely, he wrote some of his darker films during lighter times. “Sometimes when you’re feeling great you have a bigger ability to take in things and be open to what’s happening. When you’re really depressed, it’s difficult to care about homelessness, for example, or political things. Sometimes the equation is complicated.”
He illustrates his point with A Hole In My Heart. A challenging and discomforting film about the making of an amateur porn movie, he conceived the film at one of the happiest times in his life – just after his daughter was born.
“Some parts [were written] when I was on holiday in Greece,” he says. “My third child was born and we were a really happy family together, on the beach, and I was writing these terrible, terrible scenes. And maybe I’m stupid in my head, because for me it didn’t really feel wrong. It just felt like: ‘I’m happy and I’m capable of thinking about this terrible degradation as well’.”
- - -
I think it’s more and more difficult to believe in full, complete ideologies
- - -
Moodysson struggles to explain his mind at times and what sparks an idea, confessing to limitations with his knowledge of the English language but also with defining abstract concepts.
“I think more about tones [as inspiration]. It’s very difficult to describe in words, and it’s very frustrating because I can feel in my head what kind of tone I want but I rarely find it. It’s very difficult. There are some cases here and there where I feel [I capture] exactly the tone I wanted. Another thing I feel like I’m trying to do is make films to protect or defend something. If there is something that I like or something that I feel is important, that I want to shield – those three girls jumping up and down, screaming and playing guitar and drums [in We Are The Best!], I want to keep them safe, in a way.”
Those three girls… We Are The Best! convincingly and realistically depicts what it’s like to be a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The film’s main protagonist, Bobo (played by Mira Barkhammar), is a creation of his wife’s based on her own childhood, and the film follows her attempts to form a punk band with her friends Klara (Mira Grosin) and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne). Often regarded as a feminist filmmaker, is that a label Moodysson would apply to himself?
“I would have a couple of years ago,” he says. “I don’t think my opinions have changed that much, but I think it’s more and more difficult to believe in full, complete ideologies. I tend to find more and more exceptions to rules. I am becoming more anti ‘-isms’ and more interested in details.”
That’s something that has always been a part of Moodysson’s personality. He would question the way things ‘were’ – for example, the punk scene, which he always felt was too macho, to its detriment. He also refused to be put in a box: “When I was young, I listened to very strange music. After that, I wanted only to listen to Kylie Minogue, because I didn’t want to be part of that group of people who just listened to strange music.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, to hear Moodysson talk of his admiration for Miley Cyrus. “I even have a Miley Cyrus tattoo,” he declares, proudly. Well, she does identify herself as a feminist, so…
- - -
Words: Kim Francis
We Are The Best! is in British cinemas from April 18th.