Reviewed by Kate Moffat
Published on H-Skand (October, 2016)
Commissioned by Kyle Frackman
Moffat on Stenport, Lukas Moodysson's Show Me Love
Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love (released in Sweden as Fucking Åmål) was a ground-breaking Swedish film released in October 1998. On the surface, the film and its phenomenal success captured the zeitgeist of 1990s Sweden, appearing to embrace and celebrate queer culture in an affirmative, coming-of-age format. Following Swedish cinema’s preoccupation with heritage and costume dramas, Show Me Love marked a refreshing change. Against the backdrop of an ordinary Swedish high school, the story follows social outcast Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) who lusts after beautiful and popular fellow student Elin (Alexandra Dahlström). As the two girls embark on a tentative friendship (that later gives way to love), the film casts a critical eye over "conventional" social values in small-town Sweden, particularly regarding gender and sexual identity. The film also challenged established cinematic boundaries, such as that of the male gaze and the limited subject positions of female leads. Show Me Love launched Moodysson’s directorial career and established him as one of the most eminently respected filmmakers in contemporary Swedish cinema. However, Moodysson is also a controversial figure and his relationship with the Swedish film industry is complex. Anna Westerståhl Stenport’s exploration of Show Me Love is part of the Nordic Film Classics collection, a series of monographs providing a focused, in-depth analysis of some of the most pioneering and culturally significant films to emerge from the Nordic region. Stenport’s contribution to the series positions Moodysson’s film in multiple contexts and engages with all aspects of the filmmaking process. This is the first extensive contribution to the literature on Moodysson and his career. In highlighting Moodysson’s quest for authenticity, she brings forward the themes of gender, sexuality, and location. The book critically approaches ethical inconsistencies in Moodysson's work, echoing his shifting moral stance towards the subjects in his films. Moodysson has carried this contradictory sentiment throughout his career. The technicalities of his shooting style and the significance of his location choices all play a critical role. His handling of political and religious issues are never clear-cut, and there is often no clear moral direction or take-home message. In fact, part of Moodysson’s intended authenticity lies in the way he deliberately distorts any such simplified readings.
The book is divided into four chapters: “Moodysson’s Contexts,” “The Ambivalence of Show Me Love,” “The Geography of Show Me Love,” and “Moodysson’s Continuation.” Adopting this ambitious scope, Stenport gives a thorough account of Show Me Love’s production history and the cultural impact of its narrative themes. Through this close reading of Moodysson’s directorial debut, Stenport ties in a wider discussion on movements within the Swedish and European film industries, drawing attention to the shifting cultural mood before the turn of the century. This industrial focus is a welcome insight, especially as this area is significantly under-researched in the context of Nordic film studies. By linking narrative and industry, she highlights the collaborative engineering involved small-nation filmmaking practices. Moodysson’s relationship with Swedish "national identity" is another concern addressed by Stenport. Discussions surrounding the construction of national identity on screen have occupied film scholarship since Andrew Higson’s seminal article, “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema” (Screen, 1989), and the position of small-nation film cultures, in particular, is a key concern for scholars. In fact, Stenport’s book is part of a growing field of scholarship dedicated to exploring the global patterns reflected in the Nordic case. As well as following the trajectory of Moodysson’s career forward, Stenport traces the roots of his influences back into Swedish film history. This helps to place Moodysson and his career in a wider historical context and accounts for emerging trends in Swedish cinema over the last few decades.
Stenport substantiates her discussion using in-depth interviews with Moodysson and those closest to his filmmaking practices. These include technical and artistic collaborators who have worked with Moodysson throughout his career. Stenport’s interviews help us to understand cinema as a collaborative process. Indeed, the wider aim of the Nordic Film Classics series is to discuss the nature and meaning of practitioner agency in an increasingly global film environment, where texts are designed for "global" audiences and produced across national borders. The book’s insights show how films are also ideological products of film policy and are influenced by conflicts that arise between creative individuals and institutional organizations. Moodysson’s moral, ethical, and political ambivalence has often proved problematic for the regional film bodies in Sweden. Promoting the "domestic image" is a key strategy for securing financial support from influential regional organizations such as Film i Väst. Moodysson’s films often present an unflattering picture of Sweden and challenge the archetypal images of a "welfare paradise" echoed in other cultural institutions and political rhetoric throughout contemporary Swedish history. His international success has contributed to these concerns, particularly with regard to how he represents the "national image" further afield. This intersection between what might be termed practitioner agency and the wider aims of the industry form an important part of the book. Indeed, as the book explores, there are many levels involved in film production, and Show Me Love is shown to lie at a complex intersection in the history of Swedish and European cinema. The book emphasizes fundamental structural changes in film production during this decade and accounts for wider political movements, such as Sweden’s European Union membership in 1995. Although these developments largely affected film financing, they also signified shifts in cultural representation. This book brings all these elements together, highlighting how funding mechanisms and changes at the policy level filtered down into the texts themselves. This process, as this study shows, also works in reverse, where the influence of a text can have far-reaching implications for an industry and its marketing strategies. Stenport’s contribution is, by no means, a simplified caricature of these institutes or processes, and reveals a highly complex set of exchanges that are contingent on many factors. Factors relating to exchange feed into a wider discussion on the struggles faced by small-nation film cultures in a global marketplace.
Following the subsequent patterns in Moodysson’s career, the book is able to use Show Me Love as a touchstone in the evolution of these industries, charting a movement increasingly defined by cross-border collaboration. The book’s inclusive approach also exposes the permeability between industry, economy, and culture. This is especially important in the context of a small country, where there is a greater reliance on the transnational partnerships providing financial and technical support. Show Me Love’s narrative, as the book amply demonstrates, is as much about small places and their interaction with "global" movements and subject matter. This film lies at the frontier of these discussions; it is both a product of its time and a precursor to subsequent developments in the types of narratives produced and the subjects they covered. A film is not only influenced by collaboration; it is also informed by every aspect of the production process. Stenport captures a portrait of these dynamics. The book would, therefore, appeal to anyone with a general interest cinema as an industry, a technical process, or indeed an art form designed to cross physical and cultural boundaries.
. For further analysis, see Mette Hjort and Ursula Lindqvist., eds., A Companion to Nordic Cinema (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016); Pietari Kääpä, Ecology in Contemporary Nordic Cinemas: From Nation-building to Ecocosmopolitanism (London: Bloomsbury, 2014); and Andrew Nestingen and Trevor Elkington., eds., Transnational Cinema in a Global North: Nordic Cinema in Transition (Detroit: Wayne State University, 2005).
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Kate Moffat. Review of Stenport, Anna Westerståhl, Lukas Moodysson's Show Me Love.
H-Skand, H-Net Reviews.
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