Lukas Moodysson’s Vi är bäst! is as sweet and personal as they come. Based on his wife Coco’s autobiographical comic Never Goodnight, the film traces the genesis of personal worldview by playing with the ever-changing landscapes of music, politics and social justice, larger than life forces as they’re navigated by a trio of thirteen-year-olds. Sweden’s punk movement began in the mid '70s with the likes of Ebba Grön, a band referenced numerous times by the characters, and one that released both a movie and a final LP the year the film takes place. KSMB, another band they bring up, was part of the ‘77-‘82 club as well. While Swedish punk certainly didn’t die in the years that followed (it merely fractured), the post-punk mindset amongst the film’s young adults casts a shadow over punkers Klara, Bobo and Hedvig, three young girls seemingly chasing phantom identities.
Sweden saw two major economic downturns/upswings in the 1970s, one prior to Ebba Grön and one immediately after. The lead trio were too young too feel the effects of either. Instead they vocalize (and parrot?) the kind of anti-fascist sentiments that gave birth to punk, as spunky defacto leader Klara warns people about nuclear energy. Or maybe she extolls its virtues – the film isn’t quite clear on this, and perhaps rightly so. “Don’t you care about this?” she asks Bobo, about a topic she knows little about. Bobo on the other hand, is merely along for the ride. She’s the second-in-command to an ‘it girl’ who would’ve been the apex of the school social pyramid were it not for her mowhawk and androgynous attire. Bobo’s own look seems to fit more naturally, from her toneless, genderless clothes, to her rounded spectacles and messy boy-cut, and both girls seem to think they’re from broken homes. In fact, they actually have it quite good; Bobo’s single mother has a thriving social life, while Klara’s parents get in to mild arguments at most. Plus, can you really complain when your dad is David Dencik*?
Regardless, they do complain, and it turns out to be their strict enforcement rules - the very thing they’re supposed to hate – that gets them their first rehearsal space. They don’t know how to play instruments, and their first musical target happens to be whatever they were peeved at most recently, i.e. sports. The film does not, however, harp on the fact that they’re meandering rascals. It instead approaches them with the same sincerity with which they approach punk, and their target of ridicule even changes once they meet Hedvig, the conservative Christian blonde who has the musical skills they’re looking for. She represents all things traditional, from her appearance to her music to her religion, and while it’s a vastly different landscpae today, Sweden was bout 93% Christian at the time, making Klara and Bobo feel like they were ‘sticking it to the man’ by poking fun at her. They eventually become friends with this embodiment of their distrust, and like an opposing worldview bringing balance to a debate, she helps them get their song in tune. From that point on, it isn’t just "Hate The Sport" that becomes harmonious. It’s the film’s central dynamic, echoing director Moodysson’s own balance between left-wing socialist politics and traditonal Christianity.
When Klara first finds resistance to her anti-theist worldview, Bobo begins to oscillate between her and Hedvig. She finally has a second set of beliefs to bounce off before making up her own mind (she even drunkenly decries Klara’s punk-only music tastes before throwing up), but Klara regains the upper hand by forcing Hedvig to conform to their image. The film captures the trepidation of her big haircut quite tenderly, and while the whiplash results in lessons learned for all three, everything turns out okay when they decide to communicate. The tectonic plates of the dynamic do begin to re-shift however, when the girls discover a trio of boy punks their own age. It results in a story that’s far too mature for the girls to handle, but there’s a sweetness even to the the film’s handling of a tween love triangle. Their encounter with boys is also the first time they get a good look at themselves, and I’m not just talking about Klara’s sudden penchant for makeup being seen as a ‘betrayal.’ The other band sings a song telling Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev to “fuck off,” but the fact that Brezhnev is dead doesn’t sit well with the girls. It’s partially a matter of respect, but at the same time, it makes the song feel weirdly out-of-date, despite the General Secretery having only been dead a month or two.
And yet, the girls are so focused on their romantic issues and drinking to grow up faster that they miss the chance to really introspect. But it doesn’t matter, because the film isn’t concerned with one big life-changing moment. It barely has a structured plot, with the film’s climax being set up just minutes prior, because like the girls, it’s in a constant state of metamorphosis. They’ll have their opportunities to reflect in the future, but for now, it’s all about reconciling after their first big fight. They’re finally driven by authenticity, and whether or not it’s a permanent change (it likely isn’t, since it involves momentary release), their first concert turns to a shouting match between them and their audience. They even move on from hating sports in that moment, audaciously amending their lyrics to say they hate the town they’re visiting, and finally having bested some kind of enemy (albeit a small one), gives them a sense of vindication.
It’s here that their chants of “We are the best!” are born, during an upswing in their camaraderie that’s sure to come down. If I were a betting man I’d say their fascination with punk won’t last. They’ll soon find some new outlet through which to express their frustrations, and their identities will change drastically by 1985, but the fact remains; Punk, or music in general, can be a campfire around which we dance and soul-search. Whether these things are fleeting or permanent, they’re an important step in our development as people. Art allows us to see the world, and ourselves, in ways we might not have considered, and it can even become a framework within which we butt heads and build a worldview. I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of us in the BMD community as well, and I’m pleased as punk.
*When David Dencik playing a clarinet on the toilet is only the ninth or tenth best thing in a movie, you know it’s worth a watch.