Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Released in 2014
We Are the Best! ends with a riot, as a rowdy audience hurls awful profanities at our three young heroines, Bobo (Mira Barkhammer), Klara (Mira Grosin) and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), in the middle of their punk rock set. But it’s undeniably a happy ending, one that literally gives voice to the film’s exclamative title and shrugs off the hostility met by politically charged music to, instead, exalt the joyous highs of friendship.
Best friends Bobo, a reserved tomboy, and Klara, a wild id with a mohawk to prove it, look around their Stockholm middle school and only see conformity, objectification, blondes. They turn to punk music, naturally, and bounce lyrics off one another for their first song, “Hate the Sport,” while walking laps ordered by their gym teacher for not following the rules. Like most coming-of-age fiction, We Are the Best! runs through a lot of boring rules just begging to be broken, but what makes this film not only stomachable but intelligent is how these girls come across as the right mix of precocious and flat-out annoying. They hide behind “the rules” to steal a practice room from a bunch of metalhead jerks (their band is called “Iron Fist”) and shrink from messing with them head-on, but they do so to prove a point. They don’t even know how to play instruments, but now they have a space to learn, dammit. Still, they need to learn, which is when loner Hedvig, a gifted classical guitarist, joins the picture.
At first I thought I was in for a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, times three, that would interrogate the weird drive in these worldly adolescents to make a statement, however on-the-nose it may be, through music. We get a little bit of that, as Hedvig imposes some discipline like “chords” on Klara’s atonal wailing and a maturation becomes visible. But director-writer Lukas Moodysson finds the relationships between these girls more interesting than their amateur music, which is a smart, if also somewhat safe choice. Boys enter the picture, which is at first a cute and necessary (given the boyish looks of these girls, especially Bobo) subplot that lapses into convention before long.
More vibrant is the time these girls — all played phenomenally, perfectly by their respective actresses — spend together. Moodysson's camera has a tungsten-tinged, handheld aesthetic that recalls Lars von Trier, and there is a moment when Bobo accidentally cuts her hand, screaming in pain, and that brutal Nordic realism threatens to surface. But it turns out to be just a flesh wound, quickly bandaged, and Klara and Hedvig flank her for a group hug. “I don’t want to die,” Bobo says. An extreme response, perhaps, but those words were just under the surface, waiting for a rapt audience of two.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Released in 2014
Kelly Reichardt is a name anyone who follows American independent film should know, considering she is not only one of the best female directors out there but one of the best, period. But if you have not seen Meek’s Cutoff or Wendy and Lucy, chances are you have heard of Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, the stars of her latest film, Night Moves. Along with Peter Sarsgaard, the two play eco-terrorists plotting, in hushed whispers, to blow up a Oregon dam. While Fanning is just fine in her limited role, it is Eisenberg who you will remember. With very little dialogue to work with — Reichardt is known for “slow cinema” — Eisenberg proves that he does not need Aaron Sorkin-penned putdowns to hold your attention; all he needs is a tic, a hunched walk, a cold stare. He is creepy, intense, but above all contained. The obscurity of this movie guarantees he will go unnoticed come Oscar season, which goes to show how useless those awards are in the first place.
As barren and nocturnal the film’s ambience may be, this is also a oddly funny film. Reichardt does a lot of heavy lifting in the editing room, cutting from a grave piece of eco-propaganda to Eisenberg’s stone face once he is finished watching it. Even a man willing to topple infrastructure in the name of the environment knows a piece of brainless fluff when he sees it. The same goes with Reichardt. Her film ends on a willfully opaque note, but its premature conclusion guarantees that Eisenberg’s statuesque update of Psycho’s Norman Bates will stalk the corners of your mind, and maybe vision, for some time to come.