I mentioned in my review of Bo Widerberg’s The Man on the Roof how Sweden has a virtual overabundance of detective-related fiction, stretching from cinema to literature and television. You know what? Scratch that, we have an overabundance of detective fiction. Likewise you could say the same in regards to coming-of-age or teen fiction. It’s one of the dominant genres here, and stretches from cinema to literature to television, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re usually popular, you can reach a wide audience and they should be cheap to produce since you’re mostly dealing with non-professional actors. But very few of these films speak to me personally, many of them don’t simply ring true and feel like they’re made by middle-aged people trying to understand current youths. One of the few, or perhaps the only exception in this regard, is Lukas Moodysson’s directorial debut Show Me Love (original title is Fucking Åmål, but it was changed for its international release for, perhaps, understandable reasons), which in my opinion might be the best teen movie ever made (at least in Sweden), and one of the best Swedish films in general.
What makes Show Me Love so special, at least for me, is how real and relatable the two main characters are. The film’s main characters, Agnes and Elin, are both very different yet also similar to one another. Agnes, played by Rebecka Liljeberg, is an aspiring writer but she is lonely, sad, shy, without any real friends, feels misunderstood by her family and is secretly in love with Elin, played by Alexandra Dahlström. Elin on the other hand, is outgoing, beautiful, has many friends and doesn’t have too much problem hooking up with guys. But she feels unfulfilled and unhappy with her existence and yearns for something different. It’s almost as if she feels pressured to behave a certain way because of her gender and looks. She may feel temporary happiness, but nothing that lasts. She needs something different, or she’ll explode (not literally, this isn’t Scanners). She also desires to leave Åmål to one of the bigger cities, like Stockholm, perhaps for more acceptance. Elin in fact explains to Agnes that her biggest fear in life is that she’ll remain in Åmål for the rest of her life and be, ordinary. I can relate to both characters in this regard. I too have lived in a small town for all my life and feel the urge to leave. I wish to be creative and artistic, but sometimes I feel misunderstood, and sometimes I feel lonely, and sometimes I just wish to do something impulsive just for the heck of it. And that’s what this film portrays beautifully, the angst of youth.
This goes some way to reason why this film is so well-written by Moodysson. Although I’m not familiar with his published works (nor indeed the rest of his filmography sadly), I have the feeling that his background as a writer first and as a filmmaker second comes through in the film. All the characters, besides the aforementioned main characters, are fleshed out, believable and fully-rounded people, and you can understand what drives them and why they behave a certain way. My personal favorite is Agnes’ dad, wonderfully played by Ralph Carlsson. He is basically every dad in the world; socially awkward, passive but also sort of charming and nice. And even though he mostly fails at connecting with Agnes, he still puts forth the effort because he genuinely loves her. The dialogue is also brilliant and authentic. I am unaware of how much of the film was improvised, but nevertheless this is some of the most authentic-sounding dialogue in any Swedish teen film I have ever seen because the teens talk like teens do, with incorrect grammar and English words thrown in a little bit of everywhere, and the adults talk like adults do, with proper sentences and well-formulated words. Even though the movie was made in 1998, this still holds true for most of Sweden.
On the technical side, I have nothing but one complaint. Most of the film is well-shot and, whilst more focused on the characters than complicated or stylized shots, the film does a good job of communicating information visually by allowing the actors to move around within the frame, making us somehow feel closer to them. My only criticism to the technical side (and indeed the film as a whole) is there is one few too many awkward zooms featured in the film. Once or twice I can buy it, but the film features more zooms than that, and lend a somewhat comical tone to them whenever they appear. This is perhaps the one aspect of the movie that has aged the worst.
In short, I think Show Me Love is a masterpiece of not just Swedish cinema, but of cinema in general thanks to its well-drawn and relatable characters, realistic dialogue and an amazing soundtrack, which I didn’t mention before but it’s quite good. Ingmar Bergman reportedly called the film “a master’s first masterpiece.” I can’t comment on that statement since I still haven’t seen any of Moodysson’s subsequent films, but from everything I’ve heard they mostly hold up to the same standards, so I’m looking forward to exploring his entire filmography soon. In the meantime, I hope more people will show their love to this film (I will show myself out).