Punk and other four-letter words
We are the Best! (MA15+) Limited release The House of Magic (G) National release
THESE days it’s possible to date a film fairly accurately by the sort of global disasters people talk about. This is especially true when the characters are young and impressionable. In contemporary settings, the talk is likely to be of climate change and melting icecaps. In
a Swedish film written and directed by Lukas Moodysson, the youngsters are worried about polluted soil and nuclear meltdowns.
And yes, that would put the action in the early 1980s — to be precise, in Stockholm in 1982, as an opening title informs us. Those were the days when punk rock was riding a wave of popularity; it’s a musical genre that ranks high on my personal list of global disasters, but a lot of kids loved it. Aspiring bands consisted almost exclusively of teenage boys, whose anti-establishment leanings were reflected in body-piercing and mohawk haircuts. Their idols were the Sex Pistols and their songs were fast and noisy with plenty of shouted vocals. Thank goodness we’ve heard the last of them.
In Moodysson’s film, the sexual stereotypes are reversed. Our punk rockers are two 13-yearold girls, and the fact they look more like prepubescent boys may be part of an elaborate joke. When we first meet Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), they are fed up with school and the dreary routines of family life. Their musical education has consisted mainly of banging sticks on old saucepans, but we are in no doubt of their innate musical talents. They devise a tuneless song called “Hate the Sport” — a protest against school sports in a world of poverty and oppression — and plan to perform it at a school concert. But first they have to persuade Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join them. Hedvig possesses beautiful long hair and a cheap guitar. Sooner or later, that hair will have to go, and when finally it does — crudely hacked off to the dismay of Hedvig’s mother — Hedvig becomes the prettiest boy in the band.
Moodysson is among the most admired of Swedish filmmakers and seems to have a special affinity with the emotional entanglements of young women. His breakthrough film, whose title I must politely render as F..king Amal (also known as Show Me Love), was about an awkward love affair between two teenage girls. Together (2000) looked at life in a Scandinavian commune, and the unforgettable Lilya 4-Ever (2002) followed the unhappy fortunes of a young Russian woman kidnapped as a sex slave. In this company, We are the Best! stands out as easily his most engaging and exuberant work, but it’s a curiously uneven one. It’s not that for much of the time the girls are shouting unladylike obscenities (the lyrics of one of their songs, “Brezhnev and Reagan”, seem to consist entirely of four-letter words). That’s punk, I suppose; and whatever else it is, We are the Best! isn’t meant to be a conventional musical.
For all their moodiness and irascibility, the girls come across as warm and believable, and there are funny moments when they take to the streets to raise money for a new guitar. They argue about the existence of God, reminding me of the latest Woody Allen film. (Moodysson, who is both a committed feminist and a devout Christian, might have offered them a little more guidance here.) When Hedvig and Bobo fall for Klara’s handsome older brother, Moodysson shows a keen eye for the perils of adolescent infatuation, but I wish he had concentrated more on the girls’ musical development. There are plenty of good models here — Alan Parker’s The Commitments; the outcast kids setting up a rock band in Todd Graff’s Bandslam; Richard Linklater’s wonderful School of Rock. In We Are the Best! Moodysson could have spent a little more time preparing us for that triumphant final concert. In one scene I spotted a wall poster for ABBA, the most famous of all Swedish pop groups. ABBA certainly were no punks, but it would have been great to hear one of their songs.
is an animated adventure film for children, a Hollywood-Belgian co-production with American voices, directed by 3-D animation specialists Ben Stassen and Jeremy Degruson. And kids will love it.
But how much will they love it? We’re a couple of hundred metres above the ground. It’s taken us a few seconds to get here, whisked soundlessly aloft in a sealed cage. Doors open automatically to reveal a world of climate-controlled comfort with wall-mounted screens keeping us abreast of developments in Syria and Iraq. I’m not talking about the film here, but the little cinema where I saw it, tucked away somewhere in the Sydney CBD. And I wondered: can The House of Magic be any more magical than today’s world of digital technology? What is there now to amaze young audiences, most of whom will go the cinema with their mobile phones and iPads and find them more absorbing than the movie? Are they so accustomed to the magic of the real world that the world of the imagination is starting to look routine?
I don’t know, and I don’t want to sound portentous, but the question bothers me. I enjoyed The House of Magic, but what weight should be given to the views of an elderly male critic who would rather read a book than look at a tablet
The House of Magic
We are the and whose notions of cinematic magic were shaped largely by The Wizard of Oz about 70 years ago?
The House of Magic may not be in the same class as Toy Story, but it’s lively and charming and delightful to look at. It’s the story of Thunder, a cat abandoned in an affluent-looking neighbourhood while still young. After some hazardous adventures, he takes refuge in the grand old mansion of an elderly magician known as Uncle Lawrence, who lives with a host of small animals, automatons, clever toys and other playful contraptions.
Naturally, the other animals resent the arrival of Thunder and do their best to keep Uncle Lawrence ignorance of his presence. According to Jack Rabbit and Maggie Mouse, “the old man gets all mushy and lovey-dovey with cats”. Cat people will understand, of course; confirmed dog people may not care as much for the film as I did. Its only canine character is a rather noisy and bothersome chihuahua.
Voiced by Murray Blue, Thunder is the cutest of creatures, with the full range of feline expressions — smug, coy, disdainful, playful, curious — deftly realised by the animator’s art. Parapet-prowling, alley-chasing and various cliff-hanging predicaments account for most of the action, but there’s a plot of sorts involving Uncle Lawrence’s devious nephew, who is allergic to cats and plots to have the old house demolished. It goes without saying that Thunder, being smarter than any of the human characters, rallies his animal companions to thwart the wicked nephew’s plans.
I haven’t seen a more captivating kids’ film for a long time … well, not since Toy Story, perhaps not since The Wizard of Oz.