Power Rangers

They wanna know what love is: Alexandra Dahlström and Rebecka Liljeberg in Show Me Love

Show Me Love
Lagoon Cinema, starts Friday

In Show Me Love, 14-year-old Elin swigs a bottle of wine and asks 16-year-old Agnes if the rumors are true that she's gay. If so, Elin assures her in knowing tones, it's all right, because boys are gross anyway.

Cruel, but true! Physically, teenage boys are wracked; emotionally, they're still in the sandbox. It's amazing that more girls don't give up on boys entirely, and turn to notice how cute and squeezable their girlfriends are. In fact, feminist history books tell us that until fairly recently, romantic friendship between girls was a standard rite of passage in the West. And why not? If nothing else, it's far safer for a girl to practice the art of love with a close friend than with some fuzzy, 17-year-old knot of testosterone. (I'm not trying to suggest that teen lesbianism is merely good practice for future heterosexuality, or that it's a good way to avoid pregnancy--merely that homo-romantic experiences can be valuable for kids of any orientation.)

Part of what makes the Swedish Show Me Love so special is that it shares Elin's shame-free, pragmatic approach to homosexuality. Unlike other very fine gay-teen flicks of late (The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, Get Real, Edge of Seventeen, etc.), this film never romanticizes homosexuality, but presents it with futuristic normalcy. Written and directed by a man (Lukas Moodysson), no less, it just isn't that impressed (nor turned on) by the concept of "lesbianism." It is, however, rather deeply impressed with the specific ways in which two girls can love each other.

Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) is a high school loner in Åmål, a small town that she finds excruciatingly dreary. (The film's original title was "Fucking Åmål.") She has a loin-twisting crush on Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), a popular girl who's much smarter than Elin's hateful friends. Elin wants to take drugs, bomb the school, whatever; a "Girl Power" T-shirt would be redundant on this girl, although her power is mostly diffused. One night she and her sister end up at Agnes's failed birthday party, and Elin smooches Agnes on a dare from her sister. But that's only the beginning of the saga.

The film is shot in primitive documentary style, with handheld cameras and rather drab visuals (except for the girls' beautiful faces), which is appropriate; it brings back memories of a time when one was literally trapped by the banality of home, groaning for some sort of flight into the grandiose. Which, for Agnes and Elin, turns out to be not so hard to find--though, without giving anything away, it's unclear whether this'll prove to be just a phase for Elin, a practice run at passion, perhaps, before she meets the right guy. And that's part of the film's charm. Unlike Two Girls in Love or Get Real, Show Me Love isn't trying to provide role models to viewers so much as mirrors reflecting the nuances of confused, mottled, masterful teen love.

Mostly the movie lingers luxuriantly in the realm of elemental, mysterious affinity, that place where two kindred souls connect before gender, and certainly before labels, politics, or sex--a place that kids visit more readily than adults. If I sound like some conservative who's relieved to find depoliticized art making a comeback...well, maybe I am. Some experiences are lived so far below the mind--invisibly, ineffably--that examining them through art requires a light touch, an open heart, and a lowered guard, both for the artist and the viewer.

Love, whatever its packaging, is such an experience. Two Girls in Love was fun and politically inspiring, but it didn't say anything deep about human emotions. Show Me Love, by staying in close touch with its characters' emotional lives, and by letting us draw the larger, social implications for ourselves, does ring true--not to mention that it neatly transcends the labels of teen flick, queer movie, chick movie, and so on. It's all of these at once, as well as a fine piece of drama. Sure, if you place it in a political viewfinder, it does stand in firm opposition to the forces of intolerance. But unlike so much political art, it doesn't derive its identity from that opposition. This movie, with its bitchin' arrogance, smells like power to me. Not girl power. Just power.

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