Show Me Love (1998) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for sexuality involving children, language, and drug use
Running Time: 89 min.
Cast: Rebecka Liljeberg, Alexandra Dahlstrom, Erica Carlson, Mathis Rust, Stefan Horberg
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Screenplay: Lukas Moodysson
I had avoided seeing this for quite some time, although it has gotten quite a bit of critical acclaim, mostly due to the subject matter of young lesbian puppy lust. Not that I care if there is a lesbian story, but so many films exploit them for titillation purposes, and I felt that a film written and directed by a man surely would do the same. After reading a couple of others reviews, it seemed like that might not be the case, but then there's the fact that the girls are supposedly fourteen years old, and I thought that surely watching two teenage girls just arriving at puberty making out in a film that is a pure fictional entertainment media would offend my every sensibility as a human being. No, it's not like that at all, said these other reviewers.
For the most part, these other people are right. Show Me Love (aka Fucking Amal) never really takes the story into the realm of exploitation, and in fact, plays for realism in almost every regard, from the relationship between the two girls, the relationship among siblings, and in the relationship between parents and children. Everything is as it should be, in a film that is not only different because of its obvious romantic pairing, but because the teenagers are real in almost every sense. They bemoan every petty inconvenience, they treat each other horribly, they gossip indiscriminately, and they can't stand their parents. In short, they are every bit as intelligent and idiotic in their views and customs as I was when I was a teen.
The Amal of the original title, before it was sanitized for US release into Show Me Love, refers to the name of a place in Sweden. That is where young Agnes has moved with her family, a small town without much for girls her age to do except to socialize at parties, and perhaps get drunk and/or make out. Agnes has a crush on fellow classmate, Elin, who has gotten a reputation for being wild and loose with all of the boys in the school, despite the fact that she is still a virgin. Well, Agnes' birthday party comes around, and bored Elin and sis are the only ones who show at the party, where on a bet, Elin kisses Agnes, who had been rumored (correctly) to be a lesbian, and runs off. Agnes is embarrassed and Elin is ashamed of making a fool out of her, yet deep down is more disturbed by her own feelings within her. Elin is intrigued by her curiosity, and even leads Agnes on a bit, but doesn't want to give up her social standing among her peers and be ostracized for her dalliances.
The writing and directing by Moodysson is about as spot-on as you can get with the material, shooting the film with a constantly moving, grainy picture that may remind some viewers of Breaking the Waves, and why not, since they are both films playing for realism about the breaking of a societal and religious taboo. Of course, if you are going to create the atmosphere of believability, you had better cast actors up to the task, and this is where Show Me Love shows its greatest strength. These kids do a phenomenal acting job, from the two leads on down, and are so good that I almost felt a little guilty, sort of like a voyeur into a world I should be too old and out of it to see anymore. It doesn't matter that it takes place in Sweden, the relationships, peer pressure, and interactions would be the same in almost any small town. Played mostly straight, I particularly enjoyed the symbolic angst about whether or not to come out of the closet, in this case a "water closet," both in a figurative and literal sense.
Show Me Love is a teenage film the way teenage films ought to be, neither pandering to them nor making fun of them. They are what they are, just as we were way back when, and as childish as they behave, we realize its because they are children, confused about sexuality and tormented by the pressures of conformity around them. The anger is real, but so is the love that they feel, even if it's just puppy love.
Show Me Love is recommended only for people who have an open mind about seeing such mature subject matter played out in the world of children. I wish I could say that it won't offend you, because if this played in certain communities here in the United States, they'd probably burn the movie theater or television station showing it down, although I suspect most would without ever watching the film. There is a part of me that understands this, because after all, I am just a product of the environment I grew up in, as much as I'd like to claim to be an independent thinker. However, if you're willing to just see this for what it is, a small story of two girls coming to terms with their attractions, then you'll most likely have your mind opened just a little bit more than you had going in. I know I did.
©2002 Vince Leo