- 2 Aug 2019
By Ian Freer | Posted 30 Jul 2019
Some first-time filmmakers make a film ripped from their own youth. Others — usually men — sometimes get a shot at a big-budget blockbuster. Swedish first-time director Isabella Eklöf, co-writer of the excellent troll-based drama Border, has used her first shot to throw a Molotov cocktail into the arena of body politics with a slow-burning, ambiguous but ultimately compelling thriller. It’s a film that hits a lot of hot button topics — toxic masculinity, controlling relationships — but does it in cold, precise strokes — until one of the most shocking scenes you’ll see in 2019.
Love it, loathe it, you’ll certainly talk about it.
For an hour so, Holiday comes on like a sinister Love Island as Danish gangster’s girlfriend Sascha (Sonne) — always in a swimsuit — arrives in Turkey to hang around the huge but slightly tacky house of her crime lord boyfriend Michael (Yde). Nothing much happens for about an hour. We get insights into Michael’s controlling relationship with Sascha, disturbingly positioning her legs while she lies unconscious, while juxtaposing her newfound relationship with a nice Dutch guy, yacht-owning dude Tomas (Thijs Römer), which suggests a different kind of relationship might be possible.
The lack of plot and incident is a patience tester but around the 50-minute mark Eklöf’s master-plan becomes clear: heightened by the previous inactivity, she unleashes a scene of such discomfiting, depraved intensity that it sends the film in a completely different direction. It gives the last half an hour a palpable feel of tension and dread.
Eklöf’s eye is dispassionate — every shot is carefully composed — but at the same time provocative, daring you to firstly stick with the meandering first two-thirds, then goading you to tear yourself from the action as it develops. Sonne’s performance involves her spending much of the running time being physically assaulted in various different ways but she embodies the character’s sense of debasement without judgment. The touchstones here are Gaspar Noé and Michael Haneke, but Eklöf subverts them to feminist ends, delivering a treatise on physicality (the film opens with Sascha dancing with wild abandon, the only time her body seems free) and coercion. Love it, loathe it, you’ll certainly talk about it.