Holiday (2018)
Dir. Isabella Eklöf

As contemporaries search for novel things to say or contrive novel ways to say familiar things, Eklöf finds a familiar setup for an all too familiar loneliness, and makes her work compelling through the forthrightness of this aim. Which, successful as immersive formalist experiments, realist miserablisms, and allegories can be, is a perfectly felt despair through distance and ambiguity: Holiday is a banal shock to the senses because we’ve not been saved and the world is not better. She would make this film again every day if she could because it has to be felt this bluntly.

Sonne’s Sascha carries everything she needs to and more through the use of a smile. She takes from the Kirsten Dunst smile which is a thing used to performatively adhere to socialised (feminine) expectation, but which suggests an inaccessible private life running concurrently to but hidden from the rest of the room. The pathos of Dunst’s smile is also its comfort, hence her appeal as an everyperson: you are cursed to perform something outwardly, but no one can ever take you from the world in your head. Sonne isolates that sad performative sweetness but behind it is something colder than we are willing to venture to; at worst an absence, at best a question mark. She is a stranger in her own skull, the sum of an image reflected in the eyes and walls and mirrors of the room.

It’s not vacant, the reflection is as complex as it is transient. Valbjørn’s costume design is the playing field for the negotiation of the mirror; of the self as it desires to be seen by others, and as others manipulate and contort its surface. When Sascha feels uncomfortable we see her in a tight wrapped dress that deforms her body for others, a confident move that’s backfired too late. Perhaps most crushing is a beautiful red dress that cuts shapes in white walls (the desire to be seen), but which is worn with a dayglo bra visible underneath (what others see). It works in conversation with Heidi Bivens’ work on Spring Breakers and Erin Benach’s Neon Demon, but is more starkly psychological than the former, and more grounded in nouveau riche pitfalls than the formidable latter.

Similarly the rooms and performances of the two men interested in Sascha shapeshift. Römer’s Thomas morphs from clueless backpacker to preppy at his own will, and Yde’s Michael is unrecognisable scene to scene. Valbjørn’s costuming is predominantly to thank for Thomas, but Michael is all Yde making variances to his posture, flexing his body beneath his clothes, and ever so slightly rearranging his smirk. In his introduction he looks like a flabby dork who made his money in the dot-com bubble, later he fixes his gaze at a gentle descending angle to the table like a grateful gangster saint, and then progressively he embodies various ghouls all with the same unreadable pink face.

It is not so much an inverse of Joi from Blade Runner 2049 as it is those scenes from her perspective, changing her costume to best reflect his desire, but also observing the fact that he shapeshifts moreso. Every minute she must reconfigure herself, and then consider how best to conduct herself around this new abusive stranger in order to minimise potential conflict. Eklöf employs the obsessive symmetrical framing that is such a thing in slowburn Euro cinema, as well as the sanded back colour palettes of Juergen Teller to make a kind of horrorshow of fetishised Scandinavian design principles. She manages to always capture all of the holiday house which turns it into a prison. Hockney’s A Bigger Splash is pleasing for its flat colours, seductive diagonal diving board, and cropping which suggests that the space extends beyond the canvas. Eklöf strips it to a white that looks dirty in the day, a pool that is slightly too narrow, and a walkway that threatens to topple at any moment.

Predominantly static, Eklöf’s decision is still functional as the sound design means that we’re perpetually in the wrong room with Sascha. For all that it says that it’s showing everything we could possibly need, the simple fact that it gives everything but lies about the details, the agreements, makes for the coldest, hollowest hell in cinema this year.

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