Confrontational, provocative, outrageous, heartbreaking, hilarious – all can be applied to director Lukas Moodysson, who has been hailed internationally as one of Sweden’s greatest filmmaking talents, delighting and confounding audiences in equal measure. Drawing his inspiration from an eclectic and startling array of subjects, including commune living, teenage angst, punk rock, reality TV and graphic novels, Moodysson’s extraordinary filmography is keenly observed and deeply felt.
Later this month, on the essential, alternative streaming service ARROW, you can see all of his films together for the first time (and the collection is released on a Limited Edition Blu-ray boxset on 30 January from Arrow Video). Here’s a look at each film and what to expect from this unique talent.
SHOW ME LOVE (AKA F*CKING AMAL) (1998)
Moodysson’s multiple-award winning first film, Fucking Åmål (released overseas as Show Me Love), tells the story of awkward smalltown teenager Agnes and her crush on popular classmate Elin, which unexpectedly blossoms into real-life romance; it was quickly heralded as a new queer cinema touchstone and one of the most authentic portrayals of youthful relationships on film. Åmål is a small insignificant town where nothing ever happens, where the latest trends are out of date when they get there. Young Elin has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to guys, but the fact is that she is inexperienced in that matter. Another girl in her school, Agnes, is in love with her but is too shy to do anything about it. Elin ends up kissing Agnes at a party, and they have a girl’s night out together but after – that Elin desperately avoids Agnes, refusing to even consider her own homosexuality.
Key scene: Agnes’s disastrous birthday party, with only one guest in attendance, combining both shock and hilarity in equal measure.
Review: “A completely charming reality-based romantic fantasy, both sweet-natured and sympathetic” Los Angeles Times
Moodysson swiftly followed his debut with the bittersweet, satirical 1970s-set Together, in which the inhabitants of a commune try to reconcile their ideals with their hearts’ desires. Elisabeth leaves her abusive and drunken husband Rolf, and goes to live with her brother, Göran. The year is 1975 and Göran lives in a commune called ‘Together’. Living in this leftist commune Elisabeth learns that the world can be viewed from different perspectives – and that this idealistic form of living comes at a price.
Key scene: One of the characters says “washing up is bourgeois” while standing in the nude in the kitchen – prompting another member of the commune to pull down his underpants and represents a deeply satirical moment in the Swede’s filmography.
Review: “An incredible exploration of societal fear of chaos” Slant Magazine
LILYA 4-EVER (2002)
Having made a name for himself as the new master of tragicomic, feelgood humanism, Moodysson suddenly frustrated expectations with a trio of startlingly confrontational works: the first is the hauntingly bleak Lilya 4-ever, based on a real-life case of a Russian girl sold into sex trafficking in Sweden. Lilya lives in poverty and dreams of a better life. Her mother moves to the United States and abandons her to an aunt, who neglects her. Lilya hangs out with her friends, Natasha and Volodya, who is suicidal. Desperate for money, she starts working as a prostitute, and later meets Andrei. He offers her a good job in Sweden, but when Lilya arrives her life quickly enters a downward spiral.
Key scene: When Lilja’s mother leaves, despite her daughter’s emotional pleas, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. One of Moodysson’s most poignant images.
Review: “Light entertainment, this is not. Unforgettable and challenging cinema, it is” ReelViews
A HOLE IN MY HEART (2004)
The abrasive and semi-improvised A Hole in My Heart details the messy (un)making of an amateur porn video. Issues of morality, reality TV and friendship are explored – and Moodysson’s camera is unflinching in depiction of this sordid, distressing world.
Key scene: The moment when Tess reveals that she has not been chosen to appear in the reality TV show Big Brother, is filled with both devastating pathos and ludicrous irony.
Review: “The Swedish director’s fourth feature is chamber drama with a vengeance” The Village Voice
Moodysson moved into the realms of the avant-garde for Container, narrated in its English version by Jena Malone (Donnie Darko). Poetic, experimental and different, Container is described by Lukas Moodysson as “a black and white silent movie with sound” and with the following reflections; “A woman in a man’s body. A man in a woman’s body. Jesus in Mary’s stomach. The water breaks. It floods into me. I can’t close the lid. My heart is full.”
Key scene: The actors cover their faces in sellotape and gallivant across rubbish heaps, marking a truly avant-garde moment in European cinema.
Review: “Dark and disconcerting” BBC-Films
Moodysson made his mainstream English-language debut with the expansive Mammoth, starring Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams. While on a trip to Thailand, a successful American businessman (Bernal) tries to radically change his life. Back in New York, his wife (Williams) and daughter find a relationship with their live-in Filipino maid changing around them. At the same time, in the Philippines, the maid’s family struggles to deal with her absence.
Key scene: The nanny speaks to her children on the phone, and they tell her they love her and miss her – then she must go back to looking after her employees’ children. Uniquely devastating cinema.
Review: “Manages to be as affecting as it is heartfelt” Wall Street Journal
WE ARE THE BEST! (2013)
Moodysson returned to his roots with We Are The Best! (based on a graphic novel by his wife and ‘consigliere’ Coco), the charming and funny tale of three schoolgirls starting a punk band in early-1980s Stockholm – despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead.
Key scene: The band’s first performance is a site to behold!
Review: “A delightful snapshot of female friendship” The Hollywood Reporter