A provocative film by an astonishing filmmaker that is compelling and uncompromisingly strong. A must-see.
After its theatrical run, Breaking Glass Pictures will release a DVD/VOD of Isabella Eklöf’s sensational film, HOLIDAY, on February 26, 2019. HOLIDAY held its world premiere during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and won best film and best director in the Next Wave Competition at Fantastic Fest and the Grand Prix at both the Film Fest Sundsvall and the New Horizons International Film Festival.
This is a breathtaking, highly original film by a director who will not compromise. I hope Swedish-born writer-director Isabella Eklöf will not be seduced by Hollywood’s conventional approach to difficult subjects, this one being the relationship between a young woman and her brutal gangster boyfriend.
You are not slyly led into the story. After arriving at a Turkish resort and spending a day at a hotel, Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) meets her scheduled contact (Morten Hemmingsen). She hands him an envelope. Answering her request for some money, he slaps her face not once but twice. This behavior is not shocking to Sascha.
Finishing her task, she is met by her middle-aged boyfriend, Michael (Lai Yde). He takes her to a luxury villa on the Aegean coastline filled with his crew and their families.
While we are led to believe all gangster girlfriends are Versace-clad, beautifully coiffed women, Sascha is startling thin, shapeless, and with blond hair savagely dyed too many times. Her greatest asset is her adaptability. She is not a particularly beautiful ornament. Her clothes might be expensive but are terrible. They are so awful, they are timeless. However, Sascha seems to have an alluring manner that telegraphs her hardly-hidden sensuality.
Sascha does not mingle with the other guests. She is Michael’s prize and whatever she did for him, he rewards her with a very expensive pair of emerald earrings. But then, after a party where she has either drunk too much or Michael slipped something in her drink, he takes her to bed. She is unconscious, and Michael moves her body around in different positions. This is clearly a relationship with ground rules benefitting both parties.
Michael’s ownership is so defined that Sascha is free to flirt and take off on her own around the island.
While standing in line to buy ice cream, Sascha strikes up a conversation with a handsome Dutch yacht owner Tomas (Thijs Römer). Later, at lunch, she stops by to talk to him. Tomas is closer to her age and is just a nice, uncomplicated guy.
Sascha continues to run into Tomas and flirts with him, provoking Michael’s notice. Seeing how Michael brutally treats any small infraction by his crew with a beating, why is she intentionally dangling Tomas in front of him?
The most startling, much discussed scene takes place. As Michael lies on a couch on afternoon, he suddenly grabs hold of Sascha and brutally rapes her. This is not suggested but realistically shown. Michael’s erect penis is not obscured by clever camera angles or behind a piece of furniture. And it goes on while guests and their children are upstairs in the villa. When he finishes, he wipes his hand on Sascha’s hair.
Michael invites Tomas to have dinner with them. He acknowledges Tomas is young and handsome, but he has something more important: power. Michael then commands Sascha to stand and take off her panties. Tomas is disgusted with the game that is being orchestrated by Michael and he leaves.
Sascha’s emerald earrings come have more relevance. They represent a quid pro quo. In an interview, Eklöf explains her approach to her filmmaking: “I always aim to be ruthless in telling a story. I was fostered with an almost cruel, maybe arrogant earnestness: I despise cowardice in myself and in others so it is extremely important to me to go all the way with any story, to not look away.”
What is possessing Sascha to stay with Michael? Is she a willing victim? Is their relationship based on his debasement of her? Is her acceptance of his behavior what gives her power? The worm has turned, and we see that Sascha is caught up in self-motivated nightmare. When Sascha follows Tomas to his small yacht, perhaps she has found a means to escape.
Eklöf and co-writer Johanne Algren have brilliantly set up the story so that the turn of events needs no explanation. It is so rich it completely re-sets everything we have seen. It is clever and a shock but answers the key question. Bravo.
Eklöf directs with a strong hand. The beauty of the Turkish seaside and the ordinariness of the vacation is intentional. It is Sascha’s story and Eklöf is fearless in, as she says – “ruthless in telling a story.”
Articles like Variety’s May 4, 2018, “It’s Time for Action, Not Promises, to Get More Women in Filmmaking (Guest Column)”, must address the fact that film schools are genderless, and talent should be a primary factor. There can only be a limited role for women on film productions. There is a lot of heavy lifting and long, strenuous hours on a set. How easy it is for women to join Teamsters Local 399?
Eklöf is a very strong filmmaker and does not need to be classified as a “female filmmaker.”