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[whitespace] Rebecca Liljeberg and Alexandra Dahlström
Teen Town: Rebecca Liljeberg (left) and Alexandra Dahlström find each other in the boring town of Amal.

Kiss and Tell

Teen girls wrestle with lesbian urges in 'Show Me Love'

By Richard von Busack

THE ORIGINAL TITLE of the sharp Swedish import Show Me Love was Fucking Amal--Amal being a nice, tidy suburban town where there's nothing to do at night but hawk spit wads off the freeway overpass onto the cars below. Or slash your wrists with a plastic razor, as Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) tries to do on the evening of her 16th birthday. Drab and quiet, Agnes has no real friends, so when her parents urge her into a birthday party, Agnes tells off the only guest who shows up and goes to her room. As if by accident, two other girls crash Agnes' party: Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), the school's glamour puss, and her skanky sister, Jessica (Erica Carlson).

Since Agnes has a reputation as a lesbian, the tipsy Jessica bets Elin 20 kroner (about $2.50) that Elin won't have the guts to give her a kiss. The consequences of this mean bet are more than any of the girls could have suspected. Agnes' terrible crush on Elin is spread all over school by Jessica's blabbing. And the kiss affects Elin, too, awakening her very first impulse to do something that would be unpopular with her friends.

Photographed in very coarse-grained 16mm reversal film, this movie about a first kiss refuses to sweeten adolescence in any way. It's apparent that Elin and Agnes don't have a lot in common: Agnes is stubborn, obsessed, interested in reading and writing; Elin displays a vain, selfish streak with ever-changing fancies. Dahlström, who looks like a pint-sized Deborah Harry, has an airy, self-deluding tone in her voice that suggests she could end up married with children so fast that she wouldn't know what hit her. And all that's going for Agnes is potential. When she's in misery, her father tells her about his high school class reunion: how the flashiest kids in school had, in the passing of time, become most ordinary, and the most ordinary and ignored kids had grown up to be something special.

First-time director Lukas Moodysson expertly records the budding but troubled relationship between the girls. But this intimate, compelling film, shot mostly in the close-ups of faces, should have been as tight in storytelling as it is in imagery--perhaps taking place over the course of one long night. The scenes of Agnes' mother learning about her daughter's lesbianism seem like a distraction. The triumphant finish almost invalidates the acridness of Moodysson's jaundiced but all-too-accurate view of teenage life. It's said that Show Me Love (the title comes from Foreigner's sugary "I Want to Know What Love Is" playing on the radio of a stalled-out car) matched the box-office receipts for Titanic in Sweden. The artistry of the Swedish film industry used to lead the world, and this little film's artistry and financial success give one hope.

Show Me Love (Unrated; 89 min.), directed and written by Lukas Moodysson, photographed by Ulf Brantes and starring Rebecca Liljeberg, Alexandra Dahlström and Erica Carlson, opens Friday at Town Theater in San Jose.

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From the October 14-20, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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