thu 18/07/2024

Holiday review - harrowing Danish drama about misogyny | reviews, news & interviews

Holiday review - harrowing Danish drama about misogyny

Holiday review - harrowing Danish drama about misogyny

A drug lord's new girlfriend makes the mistake of befriending another man

Harrowing: Victoria Carmen Sonne in 'Holiday'

The English-language drama Holiday, Danish filmmaker Isabella Eklöf’s feature debut, is an anthropological study of the corrosive effects of absolute male power and calcified misogyny.

Inspired by a book written by Eklöf’s co-writer Johanne Algren and drawing on their experiences, as well as those of their gifted lead actor Victoria Carmen Sonne, it’s a harrowing movie – one of the most urgent of the #MeToo era.

After deplaning at an airport that serves the Turkish Riviera and coaching into the port town of Bodrum, the protagonist Sascha (Sonne), a fragile woman of about 22, crouches on her feet and performs an anguished title-sequence dance that’s abstracted from the narrative. Never again in the film is this passive creature so vigorous. Only on seeing what befalls her can we interpret the dance. It’s either an expression of repressed rage or a desperate plea for deliverance.

Sascha checks into a hotel and smilingly examines herself posing in a revealing swimsuit, indicating that her body, her gentle face, and her (terrible) blonde dye job are the only currency she has that she or anyone else recognises. She meekly confesses to a heavy who picks her up in a car that she’s overspent her allowance by 300 euros. “How fucking old are you? Pretty girls, everything’s for free….Just a little smile, maybe sucking off the right guy. That’s the way the world works, huh?,” he says before slapping her twice.HolidayShe hands over 9,600 euros to him. He’s not her pimp, however, but a courier working for her new boyfriend, Michael (Lai Yde, pictured above right), a coarse, heavy-set minor drug lord in his forties who’s grudgingly indulging a group of friends and their children with a luxury vacation. It’s unclear what these people are to Michael, except for a lackey, Musse (Adam Ild Ruhweder), whom he beats up for nearly bungling a drug deal. The haplessly immature Sascha has more affinity with the kids than the other adults. After Michael spikes her drink with a sleeping draught at a party, she becomes the rag doll he apathetically mauls and rearranges on their bed – a scene that likens her to the sedated prostitute in Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (2011).

Failing to understand that her kept-woman status and its rewards – sloth, jewellery, sunshine – make her Michael’s property, Sascha befriends a Dutchman she meets in an ice-cream store. The genial, non-materialistic nomad Thomas (Thijs Römer) is everything Michael isn’t. Sascha is outwardly naïve in associating with a guy who’s interested in her sexually, but unconsciously she’s seeking a rescuer. Michael marks his territory by raping her, as casually as he battered Musse, and throws in an extra measure of defilement. Eerily, she accepts it as the price she must pay for her cushy lifestyle: “holiday” refers as much to her day-to-day existence as to the Turkish jaunt. But the degree to which she has been brutalised and corrupted has unexpected consequences for Thomas, this fairy tale’s feckless Prince Charming.

Holiday is an allegory of relationships between trusting women and controlling men who abuse their power, and it makes for salutary viewing. Ironically gorgeous in its sunlit setting, it was filmed by cinematographer Nadim Carlsen in the coldly objective style – reliant on medium-close master shots – of the Austrian director Ulrich Seidl. The sardonic, audience-implicating approach of Seidl’s countryman Michael Haneke also comes to mind. The rape scene, and another in which Michael degrades Sascha as a whore, suggests Eklöf is targeting the pernicious integration of pornographic imagery into modern lives. Though Holiday is more explicit than Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale, another 2018 movie that depicts rape as a means of oppression, it has so far generated less controversy than the Australian historical drama, perhaps because the latter includes multiple rapes. 

It’s worth noting that Sonne wasn’t physically abused during the making of Holiday (a prosthesis was used for Michael’s penis). That doesn’t detract from the courage she showed in playing Sascha.

Eklöf targets the pernicious integration of pornographic imagery into modern lives


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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