Around the turn of the century, Lukas Moodysson made two films, Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) and Together (Tillsammans) that announced the arrival of a distinctive talent in Scandinavian cinema. Even-handed, open-hearted, deeply sympathetic, and with a detailed, rich attention to character, these films (Together in particular) are most than just the sweet little films that they appear – their power to warm the heart is almost unrivalled, and they do so without any easy sentimentality. So it was a shame when Moodysson has spent the last decade plus making one empty, pretentious provocation after another, beginning with the relentlessly bleak Lilya 4-Ever, and reaching a nadir with the intolerable A Hole in My Heart, to the point that I didn’t bother with his next films, Container and Mammoth. It seemed almost as if he was trying to swear off his previous work that I had found so special.
It is with great relief, then, that I can tell you that We Are the Best is a return to the generous, warm Moodysson of his first two films. The story of three thirteen-year-old girls who form a punk band mostly as a way to have fun in 1982 Stockholm, it is almost relentlessly delightful. Funny and sweet from moment to moment and shot through with an everyday pathos on the whole, it may never quite reach the emotional climax of Together, but it clearly stands amongst Moodysson’s finest work.
Moodysson has always been a great director of children, and We Are the Best! wouldn’t be half the film it is without the three girls at its centre. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), Clara (Mira Grosin), and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) are magnetic, beautifully drawn characters played by three of the finest, most natural young actresses I have ever seen on film. Their interactions have a wonderful lightness to them, built on tiny moments that never build up to anything, content to just be moments. Events unfold naturally, without the kind of drama that would ring as forced and phony. When Clara and Bobo get into trouble with Hedvig’s mum for cutting off her hair, Hedvig herself brushes the incident off two scenes later, her only concern that they would be mad at her. When Bobo becomes jealous and resentful toward Clara over a boy they both like, they soon sort it out, because that’s what friends do. There is no sense of drama beyond the life-sized interactions of characters with different viewpoints.
It’s easy to dismiss a film built on such lightness as light itself, but in truth it takes real skill and control to make a film appear so effortless. The period styling, the caring but flawed parents, the boys who continually underestimate our central trio for being girls, everything here is perfectly poised and richly realised. Eventually, it tugs on the heartstrings not because it is trying to, but because it cares enough about its characters to treat them right. It is that care that leaps off the screen, and turns We Are the Best! from a simple little film to a simple big one.