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Those of you whose knowledge of Sweden primarily consists of what you’ve seen in various Scandinavian thrillers are likely to feel slightly taken aback having watched We Are The Best! For, as it transpires, Sweden is not a country bathed in a perpetually dark and melancholic atmosphere, but one capable of telling stories imbued with a warming nature – although the climate remains a mere few degrees above freezing. Likewise, those who thought director Lukas Moodysson had forever ditched the feel-good fare of his first films for the exhaustingly downbeat tones of his more recent output will probably find themselves elated to discover just how successful the director’s return to his earlier, lighter cinematic form is.

Adapted from the graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife Coco, the film follows the exploits of three young girls, aged between 12 & 13, growing up in Stockholm in the early 1980s. Though many already claim the Punk phenomenon to be dead, best friends Bobo & Klara consider it to still be very much alive and decide to create a punk band, with the help of their forlorn Christian classmate Hedvig. Together the three of them find new ways to define themselves through their expressively aggressive music.
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Perfectly pitched at an age where they’re too young to be considered adults, but old enough to no longer be seen as children, Moodysson’s focus is entirely set on the three young ladies at the core of his story. His approach is admirably low-key, ditching frustratingly forced theatrics for intelligently observed authenticity. Shot with a hand-held camera, which effortlessly adds to the film’s sense of realism, the writer/director gradually paints a slice-of-life picture of young adolescence that will resonate with all who remember those key years of development.

Integral to it all are the three naturally understated performances, which form the film’s beating heart. That the three performers – Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin & Liv LeMoyne – are first-time actors never becomes a hindrance. Poised in their approach, they all manage to perform with remarkable expressiveness while never falling in to the traps of exaggeration. Barkhammar, in particular, is eye opening in her ability to confidently embody Bobo’s naïve innocence and touchingly conveys the state-of-mind of a young teenager who feels ignored by her parents and overshadowed by her best friend.

Anyone who found the brutally despondent manner of Moodysson’s recent filmography too much to handle will no doubt find themselves on firmer ground here. Though all three of the girls experience moments of frustration and anger, their story remains admirably optimistic throughout. The joys of friendship and the exorbitant possibilities of youth are squarely in focus here, permeating the film’s atmosphere with a gratifyingly inspirational tone that could even melt the hearts of those who stood out in a harsh Swedish winter for too long.

The eminently joyful nature equally echoes within Moodysson’s direction. Clearly channeling elements of his own upbringing, he captures the 1980s spirit with assured skill, relishing the opportunity to explore the notions of individuality and creative release that were pertinent within his own adolescence.

This is, of course, mainly exuded through the music played by Bobo, Klara & Hedvig. Like the school bands we would listen to at the Christmas/summer discos, the girl’s performances aren’t particularly well orchestrated, but they’re not expected to be. What the girls lack in musical ability, they make up for with their passion for the craft. The main song in their repertoire, a humorously hostile attack aimed at their gym instructor, will resound loudly with anyone who struggled with such classes back at school.

Ingmar Bergman once hailed Moodysson as his true successor, a title that many had begun to doubt during his prolonged journey to the darker side. Though those films were affecting, they lacked the energetic spark that radiated throughout Bergman’s work. With We Are The Best! however, Moodysson once again proves himself to be a vivacious director worthy of such a title. It is, quite simply, his best!

★★★★★

We Are The Best! is released on DVD on July 28th. 

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