The Square (2017)
Written & Directed by Ruben Östlund
Modern art is the topic of many heated discussions. Once upon a time art was just landscapes and Greek sculpture but if you step into a museum of contemporary art now, you’ll find video installations and seemingly random assortments of clutter. The reason why modern art draws the ire of so many is that it doesn’t offer easy answers or even poses questions in ways that are accessible in a single glance. Modern art makes demands of the viewer to look beyond the surface and, sadly, so many people don’t like doing that. To look beyond is to be uncomfortable and enter a realm where you can never be sure of previous assumptions. However, there is a bizarre marketplace at work that injects billions of dollars into modern art and creates inflated value for these objects. In turn, a sense of elitism centered around wealth and prestige has taken old and twisted art into something to be hoarded rather than shared with all.
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Force Majeure (2014)
Written & Directed by Ruben Östlund
Tomas, his wife Ebba, and their two children are on a skiing vacation at a luxury resort in the French Alps. While eating lunch on the deck of a restaurant, they witness a controlled avalanche that suddenly becomes much scarier and looks to threaten their safety. Tomas runs leaving his family behind, but the incident turns out not to be dangerous. The rest of their trip is plagued by the fact that the patriarch abandoned his family in the face of potential death. This is exacerbated when Tomas’ old buddy Mats shows up with his much younger girlfriend, Fanni. Mats tries to defend his pal, but that creates friction in his and Fanni’s relationship. The two men suddenly find themselves questioning their masculinity and place as the “heads of their families.”
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The Hunt (2012)
Written by Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Lucas has ended up at preschool after budget cuts to the high school. Despite the significant shift in students’ ages, Lucas has made the transition fairly smoothly, looking after the young children of many of his friends. One of those children is Klara, a five-year-old who develops a crush on the man. During playtime at the school, Klara kisses Lucas on the lips which stuns him. He quietly admonishes her and moves on. That evening Klara sits waiting for her mother to pick her up she strikes up a conversation with the headmistress of preschool. Jumbling together her embarrassment over Lucas and pornography she saw her brother and his friend looking at earlier she rattles off a story about Lucas showing her his genitals. This snowballs until multiple children in the town are also claiming to have been abused by Lucas, caught up in a mob mentality. Lucas’ standing in the community quickly crumbles to pieces as does his sanity.
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Written by Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, & John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by Ali Abbasi
Tina lives a secluded life, markedly different from everyone around her from a chromosomal abnormality compared to the humans that populate her world. She has a pronounced brow ridge and protruding teeth recalling images of long-extinct Neanderthals. What makes her valuable to people is her ability to smell guilt and shame making her a perfect customs agent at a Swedish port of entry. After years of ferreting out contraband, she eventually meets a man who shares her facial deformities and seems to be beyond her ability to detect evil. There is an attraction between them that develops and leads Tina to discover the truth about her past and the lies she has been told her whole life.
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Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Written & Directed by Ingmar Bergman
At the start of the 20th century, the Ekdahl family are living a luxurious and free life. Helena is the matriarch of this clan, followed by three sons at various stages of life. Gustav is a boisterous restauranter, Oscar manages the theater Helena and her husband used to own, and Carl has fallen into ill repute as a result of a drink. The family is seen through the eyes of Oscar’s son Alexander during their last Christmas Eve as a complete unit, and then tragedy strikes. A series of rash decisions leaves Alexander and his sister Fanny in a dire situation and their family grieves while trying to find a way to reunite them all.
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Lilya-4-Ever (2002, dir. Lukas Moodysson)
Starring Oksana Akinshina, Artyom Bogucharsky, Pavel Ponomaryov
A young girl, face swollen with bruises, cut across her lip, runs through the overcast streets of an anonymous European city. The streets are littered with refuse; broken bottles, crumpled and empty chip bags. She stops on an overpass and stares down at the cars zooming by below. This is how director Lukas Moodysson introduces us to Lilya, an 16 year old Estonian girl trying to overcome a hopeless existence she was born into and unlikely to get out of. Moodysson is grabbing the audience by the scruff of the neck and forcing them to watch this very real tragedy unfolding before their eyes.
Lilya’s mother and stepfather are leaving Estonia, but promise they will send for her once they are settled there. As soon as they leave, Lilya’s aunt claims the girl must leave the flat she shared with her parents for a smaller, more affordable apartment. She ends up in a rundown tenement and befriends Volodya, a boy thrown out of his house by his parents. Lilya is tempted into prostitution as her money and hopes dwindle down. Eventually, she meets Andrei, a man who shows genuine interest in her and gives her hope of leaving this place where she has no chance to better herself.
The film feels completely honest in its characters and the universe it builds around them. Lilya feels painfully real and could be one of millions of teenagers in any country across the globe living in abject poverty. The film doesn’t leave anyone out as responsible for the situation either. The entire system in place to protect children like Lilya is a farce. Teachers ridicule her intelligence so its no surprise she has no interest in finishing school. Her parents abandon her and her only relative, her aunt, dumps her on her own with no money or food. Every adult she comes in contact with wants to use her for sex or abandon her. Its no surprise that she resorts to prostitution as a means to survive. What is interesting is how her mother and her aunt are also sympathetic in their own ways. The women in this culture are fighting to survive, they may have to hurt another in the process, but they have been conditioned to fight tooth and nail. Even Lilya ends up committing the same betrayal when she has an opportunity to leave Eastern Europe.
Lilya-4-Ever could just as easily be remade in the United States and feature the oft vilified Hispanic population. Immigrants are people looking for hope that their homeland couldn’t provide. They fall into crime many times because they are reaching out for anything to hold onto so they don’t sink further. What is most touching about the film are the dream sequences Lilya has in the days where life has gotten the worst. She dreams of having wings, righting the wrongs she made in her past, fixing her life so none of this has happened. That painful regret is what tears at you the most in the end, and breaks your heart to see a life of such potential destroyed.