“Trouble is what makes the world go round”
Holiday is Swedish director Isabella Eklöf’s debut feature and though the title may linger on the hopeful promise of relaxation, her film instead puts a dark spin on the proposal of escapism with a sometimes brutal, but certainly distressing, study of male violence and toxic relationships.
Set among the seaside cliffs of Bodrum in Turkey, we’re given a sun-kissed, white-walled vision into the lives of unsavoury others. Eklöf sets us inside a world of drug dealers and gangsters but this isn’t some clichéd tale of men in charge and women following them around, there’s a deep-seated uncomfortable nature to the situation, it all feels more real than fictional.
The focus to proceedings is Victoria Carmen Sonne’s Sascha – who is exceptional – a beautiful young Danish woman who is ‘looked after’ by Lai Yde’s Michael, alongside assorted associates. Seemingly living a life of luxury, eating out regularly and partying whenever they please, they’re portrayed without many redeeming features but still intriguing, yet dangerous if you double-cross them. We witness Sascha as she drifts through her day-to-day, scared but not shattered by the casual violence towards her and also content to enjoy the positive moments and take what she wants from it.
It’s important to point out that Eklöf shoots the film in long, fixed shots that encourage us to engage in what’s happening, but also as if we’re separated from the reality, possibly much like Sascha herself. We watch her staring at herself in mirrors and flirting with her own image, as if to find a connection, but even in those scenes she still feels detached somehow. Even a connection with Dutch tourist, Tomas, could be her return to reality but, instead, it begins to advocate that maybe Sascha doesn’t want that life either.
Holiday will probably create the most discussion from its disturbing, explicit rape scene between Sascha and Michael. At first I wondered if such a scene was necessary, shot from across a front room and without any censoring, but the more you reflect, the more you consider the context in which it occurs and the fact that it’s an example that rape can happen anywhere, in any situation. It raises an important discussion point, whereas some might try to argue, wrongly in my opinion, that rape is a reaction to ‘how someone is, or how a woman dresses’, director Eklöf portrays it as abrupt, through violent male strength and power. Here we’re shown that even when someone walks in on them, it continues and happens. It’s horrific in every sense because the act itself is, so it should be upsetting for everything it is and embodies.
As much as Holiday can feel hollow and reliant on power, like the characters we watch, there is also the question of whether these people are actually choosing to remain within those lives, even when they have a chance of escape. While Sascha is likeable, the people she’s with have pretty much no redeeming features at all and, after some brutal occurrences, you will question who she is. One thing is true though, Isabella Eklöf’s debut will certainly divide audiences and even if you don’t like it, you probably won’t forget it.