INTERVIEW: From "Fucking Åmål" to "Show Me Love": Scandinavian Smash Comes To America

by Aaron Krach

With a title like "Fucking Åmål," Lukas Moodysson's debut feature was bound to garner attention. But the title alone cannot explain how successful the film has been. Now called "Show Me Love" in America, the film broke box office records across Scandinavia -- even beating that big-budget movie about the very big boat. After playing numerous festivals including Berlin, where it won the Teddy, and the recently concluded Flanders fest where it won the Student Jury Prize. The Swedish language film has been sold to over 20 territories and is currently playing in the U.S., care of Strand Releasing.

Calling "Show Me Love" a coming of age film is like calling "Star Wars" sci-fi: Yes it is, but it's also much more. "Show Me Love" is about two very different girls -- one a suicidal dyke-in-training and the other an angst-ridden straight girl -- who find they have more in common than mutual animosity towards their small, home town, Åmål. What gives their personal drama such resonance is the nuanced backdrop Moodysson creates of high school life in the '90s. Whether it's the cliques, bullies, boredom or dreams of escape, the characters and situations are recognizably real.

Writer/director Lukas Moodysson and one of his stars, Rebecca Liljeberg, breezed through New York while the East Coast was being pummeled by Hurricane Floyd. The troopers braved the tropical storm to sit down with indieWIRE and talk about "Show Me Love."

indieWIRE: The original title of "Show Me Love" was "Fucking Åmål" and it is surprisingly accurate and brilliant. Is America the only territory you haven't been able to use it in?

Lukas Moodysson: No. There are four different titles in all different territories.

Rebecca Liljeberg: Tell him what it's called in Czech.

Moodysson: In the Czech Republic it's called "Love Is Love." In Israel, it's called "F- Åmål" and here in the states, "Show Me Love."

iW: Where did the title come from?

Moodysson: I had a different title first. But then I wrote it down as a joke and it stuck. It's actually a piece of dialogue, from inside the film.

iW: When did you start having trouble with the title?

Moodysson: The problem started when the film was Sweden's candidate for the Academy Awards. It was the candidate, but not chosen as a nominee. So we had some screenings in LA and there was an ad in Variety, I think, and they refused to run the ad. So we had to quickly come up with a new title. We grabbed the title from the song at the end.

iW: Was it personally difficult for you to re-title the film after it was already a huge success in Europe?

Moodysson: I really haven't had any discussions with Strand about the title. I think they know the market better, so I just hope for the best. I really don't expect much for the film in North America. It's subtitled and it's about teenagers. I'm not sure what will happen.

iW: Movies about teenage lesbians are not known as box office bonanzas. What do you think makes "Show Me Love" so popular?

Moodysson: I think it's different for each group. I was in a taxi about a week ago and the driver told me he liked the film, but he didn't like the homosexuality. A lot of people like it because it reminds them of when they were 15-years-old and they would hang out with their friends. It reminds them of when they went to parties, got too drunk and threw up in the toilet. A lot of people like that very much. And if you're a lesbian, it's quite an important film. For the first time, it was a good, realistic film about their lives.

iW: As a straight man, did anyone ever question your ability to tell this story?

Moodysson: Not that they've told me. I was really extremely afraid of that though. When I started writing the script, it started out quite differently. When it developed into this story, with two girls, I thought, 'No. I can't make this movie.' I thought people would think it was just my sexual fantasy or something.

iW: There are several points, where the characters are incredibly mean, like when Rebecca's character tells off the girl in the wheelchair. Did you ever wonder if you went to far?

Liljeberg: No I don't think that was too much. That's how it really is.

Moodysson: The actor who played the girl in the wheelchair doesn't really use a wheelchair in real life. There was another girl who came in a wheelchair to show her how to use it. We were nervous to tell her about the film, because it doesn't portray a disabled person in a very positive way. She's understandable, but she does say some very mean things. So we had to tell the visitor that the reason was that the character was very alone. She said, "Oh, that's the way it is." So that made me feel very bad, but better about the movie.

iW: In America, there is a bad stereotype that everything is perfect in Sweden -- everyone drives a Volvo and shops at Ikea. "Show Me Love" shows a rather different side of Sweden.

Moodysson: It's true. At immigration in the airport, the guy asked me very seriously, "Do you work for Volvo?" I said, "No." "Do you work for Saab?" I said, "No. I'm a filmmaker." And then he said, "Well, is it a film about Volvos?" I'm sure he thought he was very funny.

iW: "Show Me Love" takes place all over town in dozens of locations, but the whole shoot was only 30 days.

Moodysson: Yeah, but I didn't want any more [days]. You shouldn't waste too much time or money. That's one of the reasons why films cost so much and I think that's terrible.

iW: With such a young cast, you must have needed significant rehearsal time. How much time did you have?

Moodysson: Oh I had plans for a lot of rehearsals.

Liljeberg: I think we had one day. We maybe talked about the characters for one hour.

Moodysson: Well, I wanted to have a lot of rehearsals, but I think I learned that rehearsal is not necessary if you have the right actors. I had some rehearsals with the local actors who had been on film before.

iW: If "Show Me Love" is anywhere close to being as successful as it has been in Europe, you're going to get a lot of offers to come and make a movie in Hollywood. Are you ready for Southern California?

Moodysson: I would really have a problem making films in the United States. I'm not sure what would happen to me. Because I have a strong interest in reaching out to a big audience and at the same time, I have a completely uncompromising personal vision. So in Sweden, it was important for me that the film reached out to a lot people. European cinema, quite often forgets what American movies are so very good at, which is entertainment, having fun at the cinema. European films are quite good at being serious and personal, but I want to combine those two. In Scandinavia, I'm so proud because "Show Me Love" was entertaining and personal and popular at the same time -- without having to change my ideas.

[Aaron Krach is a New York-based freelance journalist and frequent contributor to indieWIRE.]