Vi Ar Bast! (We Are The Best!)
Director Lukas Moodysson Stars Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne Sweden 2013 Language Swedish (with English subtitles) 1hr 42mins Colour
More punk rock than you will ever be
I once saw a short film in an art gallery that consisted of kids in a room with some guitar effects pedals, which they used to make the biggest, messiest noise possible. It might sound like a terrible idea but it was was funny and thrilling and uplifting.
We Are The Best! reminds me a lot of the spirit of that piece, but shaped into a beautifully made feature film. It’s a thing of rare joy.
That this film was made by Lukas Moodysson both isn’t and is a surprise. Isn’t because it shares much with his debut, the sharp and funny coming-of-age story Fucking Amål (aka Show Me Love), and his second film, Together, a comedy set in a 1970s commune that was wise, sad, hilarious, life-affirming and (I think) one of the best movies of the past 20 years.
Surprising, because after that Moodysson’s work got very grim fast, culminating in A Hole In My Heart, watching which basically felt like someone was throwing shit at you. His most recent film before this, Mammoth, starred Michelle Williams, which suggests that his cinematic depression hadn’t lifted.
But it seems to have done now. We Are The Best! (based on a comic written by his wife, Coco) is set in Stockholm in 1982, and is about Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Karla (Mira Grosin), two 13-year-olds determined to prove punk isn’t dead. As a result of a stroppy accident (but of course!), they become a band, eventually recruiting Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), unpopular and Christian but unlike either of them, a skilled musician.
The girls are terrific, particularly bossy, self-selected leader Karla. She comes from a hyper-progressive family very much in the spirit of Together, unembarrassable and thus endlessly embarrassing to her. Her dad (David Dencik) is wonderful, one of my favourite characters in the film along with the two desperate-to-be-onside-with-the-kids guys who run their youth centre and become somewhat ambivalent and obviously unappreciated mentors to the band.*
Along the way, conflict arises, caused by the usual stuff that stirs up problems between teenage girls and between people in bands (fancying the same person, petty power politics). Enough to stop the film being unrealistic and trite, not enough to drag it down.
Because the truth is that films that earn, rather seek to impose, a warm glow in their audience, are incredibly rare. This seems to do it effortlessly. I hope the gloom-free Moodysson is back for good.
*Because this is a Swedish story, the girls play on municipally owned instruments that belong to the rehearsal rooms of the youth centre. It’s not a big theme, considering these are kids, but this film does share with Together an interest in the complicated nature of left-wing rebellion in a country as avowedly socialist and also outwardly tolerant (while deeply conformist) as Sweden was in the ’70s and ’80s. Ominously, though, the early rumblings of an anti-tax-and-spend backlash at a dinner party are heard over the opening credits.
I saw Vi Ar Bast! at the 2013 London Film Festival