16.9.18

A Film a Week - Holiday


Dealing with some topics and tropes can be touchy nowadays. Let us say rape or any form of violence against women, if done by a male filmmaker will always have, rightfully so, a shadow of the doubt about his intentions. Are they purely noble? Inquisitive? Political? Some form of activism? How about attention grabbing? Or simply voyeuristic, maybe even sadistic and misogynistic? Luckily, the director of Holiday, a film that has a brutal rape scene at its very centre, is a woman. The debutant in feature length format, Isabella Eklöf, also co-wrote the script together with Johanne Algren. The new set of rules applies, the film can even be regarded as subversive and therefore a perfect companion piece to a French feminist rape and revenge thriller simply called Revenge, directed by Coralie Fargeat.

It might seem like a long shot, having in mind that Revenge is pretty fast and furious, yet stylishly done action flick with more than a hint of bloodshed, while Holiday is a slow-burning gangster drama constructed around a love triangle with only one murder very late in it (and that murder is purely accidental). However, there are a lot of things in common on the surface level as well as in deeper character analysis to bring the two films together.

The list of similarities starts with the leading characters, even their physical appearance (both are lean, petite blondes) and the girly-girl style (or the lack of style to speak of). When we first see Revenge’s Jenny, she seems to be a stupid girl chasing some instant fame and falling for a good-looking sleazeball that is her boyfriend. Later on we can assume that she is an archetypical female in the male world, pretending to be anything the men around her want her to be, thinking that she would profit from that kind of behaviour. Holiday’s Sascha (played unapologetically and in stunning fashion by Victoria Carmen Sonne) is also a stupid girl of sorts, a gangster’s girlfriend so materialistic that she easily gets addicted to attention, gifts and the luxurious lifestyle without having any real clue what is actually going on. Only in the end, after the crucial rape scene (and due to it), we as the viewers can ask ourselves whether she is an intelligent, calculating psychopath in development.

The case for Sascha’s stupidity is a strong one in the beginning. Having spent all her money, she tries to seduce her boyfriend’s boss, a Danish mafia kingpin residing in Turkish resort town of Bodrum, she was supposed to give message to. She fails the loyalty test and also as a seductress and even gets slapped a couple of times for trying to climb up the ladder too fast. However, when her boyfriend Michael (Lai Yde) comes and covers her with attention and gifts, everything seems fine and she fits well in the gangster “family” (which actually seems like an extended family together with girlfriends / wives and children of different ages) occupying a hillside villa overlooking the bay. Michael might call her “princess”, but there is something cold and threatening about him, so Sascha starts hanging around a friendly-looking and kind-hearted Dutch man named Thomas (Thijs Römer) she has accidentally met at the ice cream shop. But her luck is about to change…

The good thing Eklöf does is leaving most of the circumstances clouded by mystery. It was a gamble, but it paid of. What are they doing in Bodrum except for enjoying the sea and the sun? It is some kind of business, but we do not get to know the details. We do not need them anyway. Also, the moment Michael gets bored with Sascha and turns abusive to her is hard to pinpoint, as well as his motive for such behavior. Did his boss tell him of his encounter with her? Did he find out about her relationship with Thomas and get jealous? Did he get angry about something work-related (there is a scene of roughing-up an associate that messed something up, also unexplained)? Did he just get bored for no reason? Was he planning the whole act all along as a psychopath would do?

Eklöf got lucky or, more probably, played it really clever and cool with another bluff: the structure of the film. The whole first half serves as the exposition filled with low-intensity events and glimpses into the group dynamics. So all the chips came down to the disturbing prolonged rape scene spiced up by forced oral sex, staged and filmed in one frame with such confidence that no veteran director would be ashamed of. And it worked perfectly, adding layers to characters, especially Sascha and shifting motivation, while keeping the deliberately moderate pace, making Holiday completely fresh in the terms gangster films done from a distinctively female point of view, more interested in psychology than in action.