Unsurprisingly, the three young female protagonists in Lukas Moodysson’s latest film We Are the Best! have got major balls. Despite a mostly male crowd shouting out “communist cunts” and “the ugliest girls ever” during their first concert, the three girls join up determined to be a successful punk band. Never mind the fact that punk is dead (the film is set in 80s Stockholm), and that two of the girls don’t even know how to play instruments.
Although reminiscent of Moodysson’s previous paens to youthful rebellion and growing up, this film freshly, infectiously explores alternative female narratives and gender roles. True to punk ethic, We Are the Best! is also about finding your own authentic voice, playing apart from the crowd – even at the risk of being hated, or clearing out an entire high school auditorium in the process. Here Moodysson discusses the problem with everyone wanting to be liked, prevalent boyband culture, and why female artists are really better off being more like Madonna.
Dazed Digital:We Are the Best! is really different from your last film Mammut. What inspired the story?
Lukas Moodysson: It's based on my wife’s graphic novel about her punk childhood. I was true to its tone, but also included my own experiences as a teenager in '82. I changed quite a bit of the plot. For example, in the book, Hedwig’s character doesn’t exist. But I still see the film as our joint collaboration.
DD: Is the message of the film about female self-empowerment?
Lukas Moodysson: I wouldn’t say there was a message. For me, its more of an intuitive subconscious decision rather than an ideological thing. I’m more interested in just throwing something out there for other people to have opinions about. Of course, it would’ve been way more boring if I’d made a film about three boys starting a teenage punk band…
“I wouldn’t say there was a message. For me, its more of an intuitive subconscious decision rather than an ideological thing. I’m more interested in just throwing something out there for other people to have opinions about”
DD: I love your ring, by the way.
Lukas Moodysson: It has a bit to do with your previous question, because growing up as a boy, I felt that the whole punk thing was too masculine for me. When we were twelve, my punk friends and I were listening to the exact same music and trying to look like the girls did in the movie. The slightly older boys had a Sid Vicious self-destructive ideal: they’d eat glass and cut themselves with knives. Things like that. I was more of a shy person, and remember sneaking into concerts filled with macho punks. Because we were too young, someone once ordered us: “You sit in the corner, and stay there.” I was just terrified. That’s something I’m not at all nostalgic about – the whole macho style of punk.
DD: Do you believe in rooting for the underdog? The girls receive so much resistance from the outside world – but they push on.
Lukas Moodysson: One of the things about the characters that I’m most proud of is that they stand up for themselves, and feel that they’re good as a band. Even when everyone else is telling them that they’re not. I think that’s something a bit forgotten today — now everyone wants to be liked. The other day, a twelve-year-old girl was telling me how if you don’t get enough likes on Instagram you erase your pic because its too embarassing. That’s sad. There’s something very rewarding about being disliked or booed, even hated.
“One of the things about the characters that I’m most proud of is that they stand up for themselves, and feel that they’re good as a band. Even when everyone else is telling them that they’re not. I think that’s something a bit forgotten today – now everyone wants to be liked”
DD: Have you personally ever felt the joy of being booed?
Lukas Moodysson: Yeah. It was refreshing. One the few occasions I felt everyone liked what I was doing was with my first movie, Fucking Åmal. Everyone in Sweden loved it. On a human level, that was nice. But it also felt very awkward and very, very strange. I got really suspicious. So at the awards ceremony, I made a really stupid speech and scene and pointed fingers. After that, people really started to hate me. I couldn’t just be grateful. It was probably rude and childish of me, but I can relate much more to failure. I remember being fourteen or fifteen, and playing in a band that tried to sound like Einstürtzende Neubauten. We played in front of our whole school and they didnt boo – they all just left. We actually managed to empty the school auditorium, except for one guy. That was my biggest musical success.
DD: How do you think We Are the Best! compares with girls growing up today?
Lukas Moodysson: There is a lot of good music made by female artists in Sweden. But generally, very few in the world. I don’t know why that is. Maybe there’s something wrong with bands. This was a point I recently discussed with a female friend of my son, who plays metal and was saying, “Yeah, but its so difficult for us girls…” Maybe it's the boys who are doing it wrong; this whole male bonding thing. It's all about ego. Maybe its just better to be on your own. A lot of great musical artists are, like Madonna. She didn’t start her own band.
DD: It's a striking part of the film when the girls cut their hair off and go for an androgynous appearance.
Lukas Moodysson: That was important. They want to look tough rather than pretty. There’s something really nice about looking funny, tough, or strange. It's forgotten today by young women, even in subcultures. Even if they’re listening to weird music, they’re still pressured to look 'cute'. Tough is more important. And intelligent, obviously, in the long run.
We Are The Best! is out in cinemas Friday, April 18
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