Roy Anderson has a bit of a rep as an absurdist realist filmmaker – which is perfectly reasonable, given that that’s most of our experience of life, until something shocks us out of our comfortably surreal zone. A pair of novelty item salesmen try to sell their laugh a minute stuff – that’s the very loose thread that brings a lot of disaparate seemingly random incidents together, commencing with three unconnected deaths. The dull palette, the weirdly uninventive and depressing production design and the straightforward shot compositions combine to form a conjoined tableau of death. Just what you want really.
Lukas Moodysson makes interesting films and prior to this one approached his stories about children with apprehension as to how they would wind up – victimised by the adults supposedly responsible for their care, growing up too soon, exposed to sex and drugs and hedonism and fecklessness. His wife wrote the graphic novel on which this is based. Two girls, Klara (cute), Bobo (not) in a Stockholm school in the 1980s who are more or less outcasts with short hairdos, are fans of punk years after it’s dead. They start a band but can’t play. They get together with a good girl (Hedvig) who happens to be a talented guitarist and whose contribution makes them think they might get somewhere. Well … what’s most striking about the world of the story is the misery of their home lives, all to a greater or lesser degree dysfunctional, in cramped apartments where a treat is crisp crackers and water. (It’s a cultural thing, I know.) Their song (they only have one) is hopeless and they can’t play and then – yup, you guessed it – a boy comes between them. When they get the opportunity to play at a Christmas concert they elicit the predictable jeers and are booted offstage. And the youth counsellors accompanying them tell them they are the worst. Our girls disagree. Perhaps the best thing about this is the naturalistic writing and performing, the exploration of the lives of children who have horrible homes (Bobo’s mother is as trampy as you like), Hedvig’s is a single-parent home and Klara’s messy home life is a bit too cool for school – but it’s apartment living, public, intimate, awful and one feels Bobo’s secret despair about her mother’s sexual escapades. Not a film to inspire architectural envy but good on childhood friendship, awkwardness and the punk credo of self-belief despite clear evidence to the contrary – that they are singularly lacking in any musicianship whatsoever.