Young Punks: Lukas Moodysson on GYFF opener We Are the Best!

Glasgow Youth Film Festival opens with a bang – and some dodgy drumming – with We Are the Best!, a joyous celebration of youth, friendship and punk rock. We speak to its mercurial director Lukas Moodysson

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 30 Jan 2014

Lukas Moodysson is slouched on a sofa of a Soho bar the day after his ebullient new film, We Are the Best!, had its UK premiere at the London Film Festival. “It’s quite surprising for me that the film seems to be understandable – and even liked! – outside of Sweden,” he says in a tone that’s continually oscillating between dour and cheerful, “because for me it felt like people who didn’t grow up there wouldn’t respond to the details of the film. But it almost feels like it works even better outside Sweden than inside Sweden.”

He’s not wrong. Last night’s screening was joyous; it went down a storm. Set in Stockholm in the early 1980s, the film follows Bobo (Mira Barkhammer) and Klara (Mira Grosin), two teen outsiders who form a punk band with their school’s musically gifted good-girl Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne), and marks Moodysson’s return to the wit and fizz of his first two features Show Me Love and Together.

“I just needed to make something that was happy and uplifting,” says Moodysson. “I think I had spent too much time writing about the sadness of life.” Scanning his CV, it’s hard to disagree. The last decade has seen the Swedish director immerse himself in bleak and experimental fare with such films as A Hole in My Heart, Container and Mammoth, to little critical or commercial success. Like the film-loving extraterrestrials in Woody Allan’s Stardust Memories, it seems audiences and critics are more keen on Moodysson’s ‘early, funny ones.’

“A lot of the time the best performance is in the first take, when people are just going for it and there’s the confusion of things” – Lukas Moodysson

“It’s very difficult not to listen when people say positive things,” he says when I point out that he seems to have more success working in comedy than in drama, “but at the same time I just want to do what I want to do. I’m not really proud of myself in general because I think there are so many things that I’ve not achieved, but there’s one thing that I’m proud of: I’ve not followed just one line in one direction. For me, that’s an honest approach to life, because life is very diverse and very rich: sometimes it’s terrible and sometimes there are people who kill themselves and sometimes there’s euphoria.”

Euphoria is certainly the chief emotion audiences will feel while lapping up We Are the Best!, but it’s not all warm nostalgia. “One challenge for me was to portray 1982 and the relationships between the children and an older generation in a truthful way,” Moodysson explains. “I felt like there were a lot of people – grown-ups and parents – who were really irresponsible and forgot about their children.”

This is most clearly demonstrated in the contrast between Bobo and Klara’s home life. Bobo, an only child and latchkey kid, spends most of her time comforting her single mother, who’s either getting drunk on the couch or lamenting her latest inappropriate boyfriend. Moodysson, ever the humanist, isn’t being judgmental in this portrayal of 80s parenting – just honest. “I didn’t want to make a film where people were mean or evil,” he says, “but just a little bit naïve.”

We Are the Best! owes most of its considerable pleasures to the naturalistic interactions between its three greenhorn leads. If the film proves anything it’s that Moodysson is one of the most skillful directors of young actors. The secret to his success, he reveals, is organised chaos. This works twofold. First, there’s discipline: “Around the camera you have to create a small bubble where there’s a very strict atmosphere.” Balanced with freedom: “I say to them ‘learn it [the script]’, but then throw it away and say whatever you want to say. A lot of the time the best performance is in the first take, when people are just going for it and there’s the confusion of things and they might say the wrong thing, and those wrinkles more often than not make the scene more interesting.”

We Are the Best! opens the Glasgow Youth Film Festival on 3 Feb and is released across the UK 18 Apr by Metrodome

Glasgow Youth Film Festival runs 2-12 Feb – click here for full details