Bright Lights Film Journal

Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love

Teenage lesbians gleefully terrorize Sweden

Mention teenage love and lust, and images immediately arise of tabloid TV shows and creepy Internet chat rooms overrun by drooling chicken hawks and FBI agents pretending to be 13-year-old girls (or boys). Cinematically, this is a rarely touched-on realm due to persistent taboos. Films like Kids, Larry Clark’s 1995 voyeuristic ode to drug-swilling, barebacking New York teens, represent one extreme. At another are earnest works like Britain’s Get Real, which was bold in representing adolescent gay males as having sexual identities and impulses but lacked the intensity its subject suggests.

Taking the best elements of these two approaches is Lukas Moodysson’s acidly charming Show Me Love, which made an impression at the 1999 International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in San Francisco. It’s worth noting that the film was originally titled, and released throughout Europe, as Fucking Amal. Delicate American sensibilities won’t brook such nonsense, of course, and a more innocuous title was used.

This intimate, almost verité-style feature is a refreshingly direct, seriocomic look at two Swedish teenage girls who fall in love. Elin (Alexandra Dahlström) is the bitchy blonde babe at the center of a typically tribal gang of middle-class high school kids. She’s bored by her friends, horrified by the prospect of “kids … a car … a house,” and dying to get out of “fucking Amal,” the small town in which the story takes place. Help arrives in the surprising form of dark-haired Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg), a smart loner instinctively disliked by everyone else. The willful Elin drags her sister Jessica to Agnes’s birthday party – they’re the only guests besides Agnes’s family and an obnoxious girl in a wheelchair – and a drunk Elin kisses Rebecca. The two then spend an enchanting night exchanging confidences and trying to hitchhike to Stockholm, finally getting picked up by a middle-aged man who throws them out when he catches them kissing. Elin’s friends begin to suspect a relationship and try mightily, as tribal teens always do, to undermine it. These events are rendered with freshness and surprise, and the film takes some chances it’s best not to reveal.

Show Me Love benefits from a clever script by Moodysson, a 30-year-old first-time director who’s shrewdly observant of his raucous teens. The dialogue, particularly Elin’s, has the distinctive ring of adolescent irritation and angst. Disgusted with school and friends, she says, “I want to go for a rave! Or we could mug a pensioner.” When she hears that “raves are out,” she’s inconsolable: “We’ve got to move!” When she learns that a boy is interested in her, she tells her sister, “No one’s putting anything in me … maybe fingers.” She’s also sophisticated in accepting Agnes’s lesbianism, which everyone else snickers at, thoughtfully suggesting that relocating would improve Agnes’s love life: “If you lived in Stockholm, you’d have lots of girls!”

The film saves most of its barbs for the boys – who come off as conventional and juvenile – and the adults, skirting the absurd especially in its portrayal of Agnes’s well-meaning but clueless mother. When Agnes’s little brother asks what a lesbian is, his mother explains it with admirable cool. When he says people are calling Agnes a lesbian, she’s shocked and does a raid on her daughter’s computer that exposes her crush on Elin. But Agnes has the last laugh – denouncing a tearfully repentant mama for the break-in, kicking the distraught woman out of her room, and successfully subordinating the lesbian issue to her mother’s unforgivable “crime.”

Dahlström and Liljeberg strike just the right note in the leads, and director Moodysson keeps the atmosphere lively with suitably jittery camerawork. Best of all, he refuses to sensationalize or apologize for his surprisingly strong-willed, self-possessed young heroines.