Wednesday, 11 September 2013

WE ARE THE BEST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF13 - Amidst the mediocrity of the 80s, one thing shone!

We Are The Best (2013) *****
Dir. Lukas Moodysson

Starring: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Three very special little girls on the cusp of puberty are horrifically surrounded by conformist girlie-girls and immature boys toying with societal expectations of machismo. Two of the young ladies are self-described punk rockers, while a third comes from a goody-two-shoes ultra-Christian background (but with punk desires roiling beneath her veneer).

Joyfully and with great satisfaction, the trio find each other in an otherwise antiseptic Sweden where most of their peers, teachers and family are still clinging to outmoded values, yet pathetically attempting to inject cliched tropes of modernism into their otherwise prissy protected worlds.

Our pre-teen rebels form a punk band which results in a happy hell breaking loose, which, however is threatened by a combination of their newfound overt expressions of non-conformity and all the normal conflicts of puberty (especially within the context of an antiseptic society that’s poised to become even more bereft of character). The journey these little girls take is fraught with all manner of conflicts that have a potentially disastrous effect upon their quest to prove, to themselves and the world, that, as the film’s title declares: We Are The Best!

I’ve read a lot of nonsense lately that claim this film is a “return to form”.

“Hogwash!” I say. “Harumph!”

As if one of the great contemporary filmmakers of our time needs to find his way back to his earlier roots when he has, in fact, never abandoned them. Moodysson is one of contemporary cinema’s great humanist filmmakers and all of his films have generated - at least for me - levels of emotion that are rooted ever-so deeply in the richness and breadth of humanity. We Are The Best is, however, Moodysson’s most joyous film and furthermore is an absolutely lovely celebration of a time long past and the virtues of non-conformity that - for better or worse - created a generation of really cool people.

The screenplay, co-written by Moodysson and his wife Coco Moodysson is based on the latter’s graphic novel “Never Goodnight” and though, I have yet to read it myself, the movie wisely feels like a top-drawer graphic novel on film - great characters, wry observations, keen wit , a perfect balance between visual and literary story beats and several entertaining layers of “Fuck You!”

On one hand, I feel like I might be reading far too much into the movie - that my take on it is based too closely upon my own experiences during the cultural cusp years of 1978-1982. You see, as fun and celebratory as the picture indeed is, I couldn’t help but feel while watching it - not just once, but twice on a big screen - a very gentle hint of melancholy running through the piece.

Ultimately, I do feel this melancholia is intentional since every aspect of the film’s setting is pulsating with the horrendous sort of conformity that needed to be challenged. Set in 1982, a period which for me felt very much like the beginning of the end - not just at the time, but certainly in retrospect (which must certainly be a place the Moodysson’s are coming from themselves), one felt like the world was entering an intense phase of conservatism to rival the 50s, but without the cool repressive iconography of the 50s. The 80s were all about stripping everything down, yet in a kind of tastelessly garish fashion. Film critic Pauline Kael titled her collection of reviews from this period “State of the Art” - a horrendous phrase that came to describe everything that was so appalling about the 80s.

In spite of it all, there was, during this cusp period, a blip of hope. While it lasted, it was beautiful. Moodysson’s protagonists, like so many of us during that period, needed to affirm our non-conformity by declaring that we were, indeed, the best. What’s special about the film, is that every generation of non-conformists discovers this and Moodysson has very delightfully and, I’d argue, importantly delivered a tale of considerable universality.

Video Services Corp. (VSC) is releasing We Are The Best theatrically across Canada. Theatrical rollout begins at TIFF Bell Lightbox May 30, 2014. For showtimes and tickets visit the TIFF website HERE.