The Lesbian Movie Marathon: Show me Love (Fucking Amal) (1998)

Directed by Lukas Moodysson

Agnes lives in the dead-end small town of Amal in Sweden.  It’s her sixteenth birthday; her family moved to the town a year previously, she has no friends, and is in love with the beautiful, popular Elin.  Elin, meanwhile, has a reputation as the “school slut” but hasn’t actually “done it” with anybody yet.   She hangs out with her older sister Jessica and gets drunk to block out her boredom and frustration.   Agnes’s well-meaning, but clueless, mother organises a birthday party, which only increases the distress of Agnes, who knows that nobody will come.  Elin and Jessica decide to stop by on their way to a much cooler party and in an act of thoughtless teenage cruelty Jessica dares Elin to kiss Agnes. Afterwards, Elin is overcome with guilt and returns to Agnes’s house to apologise.  The two spend the evening together wandering the streets of Amal and discover they have more in common than they thought, but will Elin be able to admit her feelings for Agnes after they go back to school?

I am impressed that a middle-aged, male director did such a good job of representing teenage lesbian subjectivity.   This is what it feels like to be a 15 year-old lesbian stuck in a small town.  Of all the films I’ve written about so far, I feel the strongest emotional identification with this one.  I grew up in a conservative small town and I felt like Agnes when I was 15.  I had no friends for long periods while I was at secondary school, a situation I can now see had a lot more to do with my sexual orientation than I realised at the time.  I remember the sense of terror that life would never get any better.

Moodysson treats all of the kids with great tenderness.  You understand why even the bullies are the way they are.  They really reminded me of the kids I grew up with.  We used to say that if you didn’t get out by the time you were 21, you would never get out, and we believed it.

The two leads put in blistering performances.  Rebecka Liljeberg as Agnes conveys the heart-rending loneliness of a middle-class, “smart” girl who is told that she has a future, but just wants some friends in the present.   Alexandra Dahlström is utterly believable as the pretty, working-class girl who’s expected to trade on her looks and find satisfaction in male attention, but is hiding her desperation beneath bravado. (The film manages to suggest that the question of who gets perceived as “smart” and as having a “future” has more to do with social class than anything else).    The other kids are great too, especially Erica Carlson as Elin’s sister and Mathius Rust as her bewildered boyfriend.

It’s gritty stuff and at times painful to watch, but Moodysson gives us a happy ending which has a tinge of fantasy while just about remaining within the realms of possibility.  I like to think so anyway.   What I particularly liked is the representation of lesbianism as itself a source of hope and potential happiness, an end to anguish rather than a cause of it.

Highly recommended.

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