thu 25/04/2024

10 Questions for Director Lukas Moodysson | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Director Lukas Moodysson

10 Questions for Director Lukas Moodysson

The Swedish helmer revisits childhood mischief with his latest

Rebel Rebel: Lukas Moodysson, champion of outsiders

The Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson first burst onto the scene in 1998 with the chaotically romantic Show Me Love (original title Fucking Åmål), a story of a love affair between two teenage girls which shocks a small Swedish town.

He followed that with commune comedy Together (2000) before eventually segueing into darker territory with films such as Lilya 4-Ever (2002), A Hole in My Heart (2004) and Mammoth (2009) which focussed on sex trafficking, amateur porn and the ills of globalisation respectively.

His latest We Are the Best! revisits Show Me Love's shy-girl-wild-girl dynamic but eschews romance in favour of a fizzy study of female friendship and an exploration of the liberating power of punk in early 80s Stockholm. Focussing on two very different 12-year-old outsiders - Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), later joined in their musical and rabble-rousing antics by the similarly ostracised Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) - it's a middle-finger in the face of the establishment, one in the eye for conventional femininity and is inspired by an autobiographical comic-book by Moodysson's wife Coco. Lukas opens up to theartsdesk on collaborating with the missus, being a young punk, and the challenges of working with kids.

EMMA SIMMONDS: The film is based on a graphic novel by your wife Coco, how much was she involved in the adaptation?

LUKAS MOODYSSON: On a detail level very much because we're both interested in things like what shoes a character should wear. We discussed the choice of actors a lot too, so she was interested in the casting. Otherwise she wasn't that involved because she had first experienced the whole thing - because it's based on her life - and then she had written the book, so I don't think she was that interested in going back once again. She gave me a lot of freedom and that was very kind of her.

Is she pleased with the end result?

There were some things that she didn't like that I changed but mostly she was ok with it. She doesn't like the title for example. The book is called Never Goodnight but that relates to a theme that I didn't use in the film - the idea of the girls not wanting to say goodnight because it means goodbye, so they would keep on going even when they were falling asleep. We filmed some scenes like that but it didn't really work out. It seemed a little too philosophical for the film I wanted to make.

Which of the characters resembles her most closely?

Bobo (the shy central character, pictured far right). In the book she's actually called Coco and I needed to change that, partly for me because I wanted to give myself more freedom, but also for the actress because I didn't want her to feel like she was portraying a living person and because I felt like it might be strange if she had to portray the director's wife! Actually, the very first thing I did was think up a new name for her.

You would also have been the same age as the girls during the era depicted, did you introduce any of your own teenage experiences into the story when you drafted the screenplay?

In the book the central character plays the guitar but, as I myself played the drums when I was 12, I changed it to drums instead because I wanted something of myself in there. I think Coco and myself are quite similar in many ways and had similar experiences growing up, so I don't think I had to change much. For example we both had fathers who disappeared, not completely but who weren't that present - so that theme for example remained.

Were you a punk too?

I was. It was a fascinating and wonderful experience to be able to use the music that I liked when I was 12 in a film, especially now I'm an old man! Of course we had to ask for permissions and I was really nervous that the bands would say no, or that they would be extremely greedy and ask for too much money but they all said yes and asked for, well, a lot of money but not too much!

Regarding the girls' looks, we didn't make them look like perfect punks, they look like they are a bit disappointed with their haircuts because that's the feeling I had myself - you were never happy with how you looked and you wanted to look like somebody on some album cover but you never really lived up to that. Few punks back then actually looked as extreme as we imagine today.

Was it a conscious choice to make a film that's lighter in tone than those you've made more recently, or was that dictated by the source material?

I think it was a conscious decision. I don't really think in terms of happy and sad but more in terms of tone and energy. I wanted something with a high energy level, as opposed to some things that I have made which are more distorted or meditative. I wanted something that was jumping up and down.

How did you go about casting the three girls, did they get on and what did they make of the early 80s punk scene?

We met a lot of young people in the Stockholm area, as the only important criteria was that they had to talk with a Stockholm accent. It was a long, long process, mostly based on improvisation. I'm interested in actors, both young and grown up, who enjoy experimenting and doing things that are not necessarily scripted. It's very much based on me wanting to find someone to play with - I don't really look for actors who I can control completely, I want them to bring a lot of themselves. There's actually a bit of an age-gap between the girls - so they were sometimes not very friendly and sometimes very friendly. In fact they got into quite a lot of fights.

One of them said that her best friend's grandfather played in one of those mythical Swedish punk bands - I could have imagined if it was her father but her grandfather! They're so young, especially Mira Grosin who plays Klara - she was actually just 11 when we filmed it. She's really tough and is a football player in real life so she didn't really like singing "Hate the sport". She didn't really understand what the 80s were like since she was born in the 2000s! That period was 20 years before she was born so she was like, "Did you really have television in those days?" However the girls concluded that the 80s seemed like a nice time to grow up in. They felt that so many things were better then - less stress, better music. Although living without an iPhone? Impossible!

The film effectively illustrates the liberating power of music. Is this something that you feel passionately about and are you musical yourself?

I am musical but I cannot express music, I can just take it in. I think I understand music but I cannot play at all. It's a sadness for me. I tried to play the drums when I was young but I couldn't even learn one chord on a guitar and I cannot sing. Music means a lot to me though, I think it's saved my life and a lot of people's lives.

One of the great things about the film is that it's a rare depiction of young women rejecting femininity and causing a ruckus and they're clearly having a wonderful time doing so. Was it important to you to show how fun the rejection of convention can be?

It was important. It's important to remember that it's fun to be different and it's fun to be rejected and even hated, it can be nice to be part of a minority. I'm not saying that it's good to be beaten up in the street but when I was 12-years-old it felt quite good to be misunderstood. I'm generalising now but these days many people who feel different are not finding the fun part of that. It's difficult but it's also good to stand-out.

The most important part of directing this film was when we were discussing the clothes - how these girls do not dress to be cute or sexy or beautiful, they want to look tough. I talked a lot to my wife about this and she was saying that when she was 12-years-old she lacked female role models and that she found those in the guys instead. So she wanted to look like one of the tough guys and not one of the girls, so that was an important element of these characters. There was also an element of fun to how they dressed - looking like an old man, in your grandfather's jacket and strange shoes, making fun of yourself.

Did you have a specific feminist agenda?

I don't have one strict ideology but I'd say that the prisons of traditional femininity and traditional masculinity are really bad. However I don't have a political agenda, not one big concern and I don't like "isms" at all really. If you, or someone else said that this is a feminist movie I would not disagree, because I think it's up to the person that sees it. I am of course not anti-feminist but I didn't want to be too political with this film.

  • We Are the Best! is in cinemas now

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters