Vi är bäst! [2013)

IF you want to see a bogus, bollocks feminist film, watch Free the Nipple.

But if you want to see the real thing…a really empowering, touching story, then check out We Are the Best!

IT’s in Swedish.

So you’ll have to use your brain.

And your eyes.

Unless you speak Swedish.

But it will be well worth your time.

Vi är bäst! isn’t trite acting from a bunch of pseudo-provocateurs who just want to take their shirts off.

Nej.

This is the story of three 13-year-old girls.

None of them fit in.

Everyone tells them they’re ugly.

One of them is ostracized for being a Christian.

[now THAT’S punk!]

But it’s the story of three girls who come together and do the greatest thing possible:  form a band.

Music!!!

And let me just say this:  the acting is fucking fantastic!

Mira Barkhammer plays Bobo.

For me, she is the star of the film.

She is the outcast of the outcasts.

No make up.

No cool haircut.

She’s searching for her identity.

But she’s so smart.  So truly unique!

She wears these little wire-rim glasses.

From one perspective, this film is her search for what’s behind the mirror.

Director Lukas Moodysson made a masterpiece here.

Bobo…

The name…

I think of Boris Diaw.

The whole scenario is aw-kward.

But so beautifully so!

And yet Bobo is not perfect.

Far from it.

It’s a team effort.

And teams, especially when they are ad hoc and organic, are inherently dysfunctional.

The actress who puts the dys in dysfunction here is Mira Grosin.

But she too is so wonderful in this film!

She is the inspiration.

The first one out on the limb.

The rebel.

The loudmouth.

She inspires her other two bandmates to fly their freak flags high.

But the most enigmatic is Liv LeMoyne:  the Christian.

Director Moodysson is so deft in his handling of this dynamic.

LeMoyne’s character [Hedvig] has long, beautiful blond hair.

[At this point it is appropriate to address a strange form of class relations in Sweden:  hair color.]

When I used to think of Sweden (which I did rarely), I would imagine everyone as a blond.

Perhaps the American vision of Sweden is a socialist paradise of blond bikini models.

At the very least, blondness seems to be the defining characteristic in the American popular imagination regarding Sweden (as far as I can tell).

This isn’t a scientific study, you understand…

But it is important to point this out.

The snottiest (in the stuck up, snobbish sense) characters in this film are mostly blonds.

The little girls who call Bobo and Klara [Grosin] ugly.

It is really heartbreaking.

These two BRUNETTE girls endure such humiliation throughout this film.

And so it’s no wonder that they want to start a PUNK BAND!

But they can’t play.

Like, not at all…

Their first halting efforts are in the vein of The Shaggs.

No, worse.

And that’s where the Christian comes in.

Hedvig is an accomplished classical guitarist.

It is, indeed, much like the story of Garth Hudson’s joining The Band.

Lessons.

So to speak.

Bobo and Klara are astounded at Hedvig’s talent.

They lament that they’ll never be as good as their gifted new friend.

But Hedvig is all encouragement.

It is [pardon the expression] a match made in heaven.

And so three misfits (for different reasons) band together (literally) and take on the cock rock ridiculousness of bullies like youth-center-rehearsal-room-“stars” Iron Fist.

The message is astounding.

I haven’t seen a film which does such honor to the idea of feminism since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

But there’s no ulterior motive here.

This isn’t a George Soros production.

This is the real thing.

Just three young people (who happen to be female) wanting to make some noise in their world.

And we see how beautiful punk music is.

IT’s a catharsis.

Like Sonic Youth.

And we remember the true geniuses of the genre (like my hero, the late Alan Vega).

But we also remember the maxim:  “three chords and the truth”.

Hedvig’s got the chords.

[Ah…harmony!  What a concept!!!]

But Klara has the attitude.

And Bobo has the intellect.

They learn from each other.

“Here.  Stay on this note.  Good.  Now move to this note.”

“Punk is about rebellion.  It’s not about the school talent show.  We’ve got to keep going.  It’s a fight.”

“You really need to change your hair.  Do something fun!  Express yourself!  Cut loose!”

Those are my translations of action, not dialogue.

But I can’t stress enough how great these three actresses are in this film.

Mira Barkhammer in particular is a prodigy.

But, as in the story, the trio is inseparable.

And for this kind of cohesion, we have but one place to look in thanks:  the auteur.

-PD

Corner Store [2010)

I previously reviewed the Palestinian masterpiece خمس كاميرات محطمة‎‎ (Five Broken Cameras).

And we shall return to Palestine with another moving documentary.

Another masterpiece.

For this one we have a very perceptive American director to thank:  Katherine Bruens.

But all of it would be for naught if not for a shining example of humanity:  corner store owner Yousef Elhaj.

The occupation of Palestine can elicit such feelings of anger and disgust (as well it should).

But every once in a while a real kind spirit comes along.

And such kind spirits shame the despicable Israeli settlers and their vulture military even more so than the most vitriolic polemic.

Yousef Elhaj is such a person.

Sweet.  Hardworking.  Kind.  Quiet.  Patient.  Hardworking.

And (big surprise) a Christian.

Here we see a different perspective from 5 Broken Cameras.

I suppose we are used to assuming that all Palestinians are Muslims (and a vast majority are), but it is interesting to see things from a different perspective.

Elhaj’s life in Bethlehem (occupied West Bank) was just as crappy as that of any Muslim living there or in any other part of the criminally unrecognized Palestine.

Another important point…  Being Christian does not make Elhaj any less Arab.

Most importantly…  Peace in the Middle East is possible because of people like Yousef Elhaj.

He is really a jaw-dropping personage.

So much sacrifice for his family.

7:30 a.m.-midnight.

Seven days a week.

A little corner store on Church St. in San Francisco.

And to see life in Bethlehem.

To see the hell of walls and settlements which the Israelis have erected.

The settlements encroach.  The settlements surround.

Bethlehem is completely encircled by concrete structures which are too artless for even Frank Gehry to barf on.

That’s what settlements mean.

Don’t let the euphemism fool you.

“Settlements” are concrete apartment blocks built on stolen land.

That would be bad enough were it not for the ubiquitous (and racist) walls which stockade Palestine.

And yet we don’t see anger from Mr. Elhaj.

He isn’t shown at a protest.

He just wants his family to be alright.

And his main emotion upon seeing the decline of his home town of Bethlehem is sadness.

The Israeli gun towers.  Turrets to protect the settlers.  And to hell with everyone else.

The sadness as a business man is remarkable.

What made him leave in the first place.

Things weren’t just bad.  They were awful.

And so he has been away from his family for ten years.

He could have brought them to the U.S., but our immigration laws are not written to think of people as people.

Rather, our laws reduce people to statistics.

Quotas.

I can only figure that Mr. Elhaj (as bad as things were for him) actually had it better than Muslim Palestinians hoping to start a new life in America.  [Which is to say, Muslims in general are not in an enviable position at this time regarding their leverage in situations of immigration review.]

So let’s think about it…

Bernie Sanders might be a generally disposable candidate, but he’s gotten a couple things right.

When he talks about America’s strength being its diversity?  He’s absolutely right.

It’s trite.  It’s Democrat politics 101…but it is correct.

And Mr. Trump (whom I like)…  Wanna see what walls do?  Go check out Palestine.  Actually get in the open-air jail.  Don’t view it from a safe distance courtesy of the occupiers.

The walls are ugly.

Sad.

Pathetic.

Fearful.

Weak.

Mr. Elhaj has so much to teach us in this documentary.

You can succeed in America.

The opportunity is there.

It may not be pretty.

But when you’re coming from the hell of Bethlehem, it’s a walk in the park.

You do it all for your family.

Seven days a week.

For ten years.

 

-PD