TWO GIRLS. ONE LOVE.
The Russian artist Lena Katina once said in an interview that her controversial pop duo t.A.T.u. was originally inspired by this film. She and her fellow teenage performer Julia Volkova posed as lesbians, which caused quite a stir in a country that is hopelessly socially conservative. When t.A.T.u. fans learned that they weren’t a couple, some of them felt betrayed (even though the truth was pretty obvious from the start). But their sexuality didn’t matter as much as the duo’s value as a symbol of sexual freedom.
The ending of Show Me Love is no guarantee that two high-school girls will go on to have a beautiful romance – but the symbolism of their revolution is more important.
In a small town in western Sweden called Åmål, two teenage girls live different lives. Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) moved there with her family some time ago, but she still finds it hard to get used to her new life. Without any friends, and secretly in love with another girl in school, Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), Agnes is increasingly unhappy and begins to ponder suicide. At the same time, Elin is desperately sick of her life. She has a slutty reputation but is careful to point out to her older sister Jessica (Erica Carlson) that she’s only made out with boys, never had sex. Elin wants to leave ”fucking Åmål” and do drugs in Stockholm, or rob someone, or whatever – she just wants something unusual to happen in her life. One evening, she and Jessica learn that Agnes is having a birthday party and they decide to show up…
A symbol of small-town boredom
There was some local opposition in Åmål during the making of the film, even though it wasn’t actually shot there – people thought the original title would be all bad for Åmål’s reputation. They were sort of right; the town has become a symbol of small-town boredom and homophobia, even though the story could have been set in most other Swedish towns. Still, the people of Åmål should be proud; this is their claim to fame, an immensely popular movie that reached beyond Sweden’s borders. And the film should also be a reason for every small town to say, no – we do not want to be a place that stifles young people’s creativity or sexual freedom.
Show Me Love is the directing debut of Lukas Moodysson, author and poet, who embarked on one of the most successful careers of any Swedish filmmaker in the past few decades, and it’s clear that he had an ear for and understanding of teenage life. One of the joys of the film is simply listening to and observing how these boys and girls talk and behave around each other. Everything is painfully familiar and authentic. It’s all here on display – youthful impatience, vulnerability, curiosity, sexuality, boredom – superbly directed by Moodysson and enacted by a great cast of young talents, including Liljeberg and (especially) Dahlström as two girls who realize that they have more in common than they think.
Moodysson also points out the constant toxic influence of teenage machismo in the shape of boys who are never really interested in their girlfriends except as a way of relieving sexual tension. There’s a tragically hilarious scene where Elin and Jessica argue with their dense boyfriends about the different things that boys and girls might be good at. Cellphones and makeup?
We do feel like a fly on the wall thanks to an intimate camera and many small endearing details, some of which will matter more to Swedish audiences. The soundtrack is typical of its era, including a powerful way to end the movie – ”Show Me Love” by Robyn, released at the same time as the artist was beginning to be noticed by U.S. audiences.
Show Me Love 1998-Sweden-Denmark. 89 min. Color. Produced by Lars Jönsson. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson. Cast: Alexandra Dahlström (Elin), Rebecca Liljeberg (Agnes), Erica Carlson (Jessica), Mathias Rust, Stefan Hörberg, Josefin Nyberg… Ralph Carlsson.
Trivia: Original title: Fucking Åmål.
Last word: “The problem [with the original title] started when the film was Sweden’s candidate for the Academy Awards. It was the candidate, but not chosen as a nominee. So we had some screenings in LA and there was an ad in Variety, I think, and they refused to run the ad. So we had to quickly come up with a new title. We grabbed the title from the song at the end.” (Moodysson, Indiewire)