Monday, August 16, 2010

Lukas Moodysson week

I’ll be rounding out the “impulse buys” category of Operation 101010 this week with four Lukas Moodysson films. He’s a director I know nothing about apart from the almost unanimous acclaim garnered by his first three films – ‘Show Me Love’ (a.k.a. ‘Fucking Åmål’), ‘Together’ and ‘Lilja 4-Ever’ – and the scabrous controversy which his fourth – ‘A Hole in My Heart’ – engendered.

These four titles are collected in the Metrodome four-DVD box set which I picked up for a song (£10 – i.e. £2.50 a movie) a few months ago but which has sat on the shelf gathering dust. I had it at the back of my mind that ‘Show Me Love’ and ‘Together’ would be desperately worthy, ‘Lilja 4-Ever’ utterly depressing and ‘A Hole in My Heart’ an endurance course of a movie.

I squared up to the box set over the weekend. I’ve watched ‘Show Me Love’ and ‘Together’ (thoughts on those tomorrow and Wednesday) and I’ll be sticking ‘Lilja 4-Ever’ on as soon as I’ve posted this.

But I thought I’d kick start Moodysson week (it’s not a retrospective per se since I don’t have copies of ‘Container’ and ‘Mammoth’ available) with a few words on ‘Talk’, an early short film included as one of the extras.

‘Talk’ – the indigenous title ‘Bara Prata Lite’ translates as something closer to ‘Just Talk for a While’ – starts with Birger Andersson (Sten Ljunggren), a shambolic looking man in late middle age, trying to strike up a conversation with a younger woman on a bus. He tells her that he’s on his way to work and that he works at the Volvo plant. Her disinterest is palpable. She ignores him. At the Volvo plant, Birger wanders round – seemingly aimlessly. Anorak on, plastic bag clutched in his hand, he cuts a sorry figure. He passes on some advice to an engineer working on a precision part – the man tells him to clear off. He wanders into an empty canteen looking for a cup of tea – the cashier eyes him warily and calls for the chef. The chef tries to reason with him: he doesn’t work there anymore; go home; take up a hobby. Birger seems about to go off on one, but leaves.

So far, so good. A decent character study underpinned by an unshowy but affecting performance from Ljunggren. Similarly unfussy direction from Moodysson. A highly observational piece documenting one of life’s overlooked denizens. Not necessarily a loser; more a victim of his own mundanity.

If Moodysson had left it there, or continued second half of his 14-minute short in like manner, I’d have no hesitation in hailing ‘Talk’ as a little gem. Unfortunately, Moodysson decides to give the piece a meaning rather than let Birger’s sad and forgotten life speak for itself.

Mahapadu (Cecilia Frode), a hippie in thrall to eastern religions, turns up on Birger’s doorstep – a flower child version of a Jehovah’s witness – and much to her stupefaction is invited in. Birger, natch, just wants to talk. So does she. But Birger wants to talk about his life, about the small failings and day-to-day drabness that defines it. Mahapadu wants to talk about God and enlightenment. Birger, dismissing her beliefs, drones on and on, his logorrhea building to a rant. Mahapadu, unnerved, tries to leave …

It’s obvious where this is going, and the theme of talking as not necessarily analogous to communication isn’t so much introduced into, or debated by, the film as hammered home with a fucking big mallet. A gallows-humour coda ends things on a slightly weird note, the very grounded and character-based scenes of just ten minutes earlier having somehow morphed into a bad comedy sketch.

Still, ‘Talk’ shows great skill from its fledgling director, not least in his ability with actors. Ljunggren’s characterisation of Birger is finely nuanced and utterly convincing, so much so that even the out-of-place ending doesn’t detract from the completeness of the performance. Also, the success of ‘Talk’ gave Moodysson the opportunity to make ‘Show Me Love’. It served its purpose.


Hans A. said...

Looking forward to your thoughts, Neil. Moodysson is one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. I absolutely love both Show Me Love and Together and I'll comment on both your reviews. As for A Hole in My Heart, I wouldn't say it's an endurance test but best be forewarned--it's very, very sad and has some very shocking material. It's a challenging work and I'm looking forward to your opinion.

Neil Fulwood said...

Just posted my review of 'Show Me Love'. Utterly loved it. I can tell you right now my review of 'Together' will be just as exuberant. (I really didn't expect 'Together' to be so funny!) I didn't get chance to finish watching 'Lilja 4-Ever' yesterday, so I'll finish it tonight. I think it'll prove an emotionally harder film to engage with and write about than the other two. The half hour or so that I've watched of it so far, however, has been very impressive.