Rewatching The Queer Canon, Part 1: "Fucking Amal"

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by Oliver Skinner
January 22, 2014 10:35 AM
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"Why do we have to live in fucking bloody cock-Åmål?"

"Have you seen Fucking Amal?" was an icebreaker I once used at a shitty part-time job with a new coworker who would go on to become my boyfriend. He was from Sweden and aside from it being an all-time fav of mine I also knew it had been one of his country's highest-grossing films ever. The would-be bf's eyes lit up as he replied "You know Fucking Åmål?" (correcting my mispronunciation), and thus began an extended conversation that ranged from Ingmar Bergman to Ace of Base. But most prominently, we rejoiced with one another in the total utter perfection of the 1998 picture: the house parties, the Broder Daniel soundtrack, the unrequited love… everything a good film essentially needs.

Our movie of joint admiration was Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson's debut film, following his youthful emergence onto the scene with 5 collections of poetry and a novel. The title had to be altered to 'Show Me Love' for distribution in less-risqué English-speaking markets, yet the film was so popular in its home country that a longtime rumour purported it sold more tickets than the unsinkable 'Titanic'. It dominated the Guldbagge Awards that year where Moodysson boldly took the stage and proclaimed that cinema doesn't belong at the opera (where the awards were held that year), that people shouldn't eat meat, and proceeds to give the middle finger to the attendants. 

Fucking Åmål shows us, in part cinéma vérité style, the dissimilar lives of two schoolgirls living in painful smalltown Sweden. Agnes is that certain breed of outcast with a Morrissey poster on her bedroom wall; her only friend is bound to a wheelchair and all her other classmates either bully her or don't know she exists. She's deeply enamoured with Elin, a popular blonde whose photo Agnes stares at longingly in the school yearbook. Elin is bored to death with the dull routine of life in Åmål and its uninteresting boys. In search of any new experience, one night she drags her sister "as a joke" to a birthday party Agnes' parents are making her throw. It's on that night they fall for each other. 

The film has the slamming of one's head against a school desk moaning "everything is boringgggg", the guzzling of wine straight from the bottle at a trashy party, and the picking one's brain for any pharmaceuticals in the house that could potentially get them high to escape the reality of being destined for all that is superior and magical while being confined to lame teenage existence. There's also a backseat makeout scene set to Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is". Fucking Åmål captures the bittersweet desperation of youth: a tragedy as it's in the midst of occurring yet such a comedy in hindsight. It's a totally endearing love story free of artifice -- with an optimism rare for these sort of flicks. 

Stream Fucking Åmål in its entirety on Netflix.

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