×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Holiday’

Sweden's Isabella Eklöf makes a viciously auspicious debut with this sun-splashed, frost-bitten tale of a summer vacation gone awry.

Director:
Isabella Eklöf
With:
Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde, Thijs Römer

1 hour 32 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7328154/

The water’s warm and inviting, and that goes for precisely nothing else in “Holiday,” a low-temperature, high-impact debut from Swedish-born writer-director Isabella Eklöf that impresses with its clinical construction and still, penetrating gaze into male violence. Scratch past its smooth, sun-whitened surface, however, and messy questions lie at the nominal heart of this glassy, nasty study of a Danish gangster’s moll caught between the material rewards of her position and the abusive price she pays for it. It’s up for vigorous debate whether “Holiday’s” most shocking material offers substantive commentary on the toxic behavior it portrays, or simply eye-searing observation thereof; a steady female gaze behind the camera tilts the film’s politics in unexpected, deliberately discomfiting ways. “Holiday” can expect all-inclusive bookings on the festival circuit; distributors, however, may have reservations.

The club of contemporary cinematic provocateurs to whose brand of formalism “Holiday” is likeliest to prompt comparisons — Ulrich Seidl, Michael Haneke, even Gaspar Noé — is an awfully male-dominated one, and one senses that hegemony is not far from Eklöf’s mind in her gutsy first feature. Perhaps not since Julia Leigh’s undervalued “Sleeping Beauty” has a distaff auteur film so brazenly tested the limits of how women’s bodies may be used and abused on screen, muddling empathy with exploitation in one pristinely composed shot after another.

Over the course of 90 minutes, young protagonist Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) is assaulted in so many ways — from an echoing strike across the face in the opening minutes to extended vaginal rape later on — under the camera’s calm eye that “Holiday” risks becoming a passive exercise in extremity alone. Or is Eklöf acerbically daring the viewer to grow numb to these horrors? Working from a script lean on dialogue and shorter still on access to its characters’ inner lives, the director keeps her options open.

At the outset, in a darkened, claustrophobic tableau, Sascha is shown engaged in a manic, thrashing solo dance number of sorts — a physical routine that feels already cathartic, a release from restrictions we haven’t yet come close to grasping. At no subsequent point will she seem quite so in possession of her own physical person: Decked out for much of the film in a series of expensive, exposing swimsuits and glinting accessories, her body language forever self-aware and pose-driven, she appears to be presented throughout for perusal and pawing by the men who surround her. Well, one in particular: middle-aged, milky-eyed crime boss Michael (Lai Yde), whose underworld crew she joins for a hedonistic vacation at a luxury seaside villa on Turkey’s Aegean coastline.

A man not so much drunk on power as soberly expectant of it, Michael thinks nothing of hitting Sascha for minor infractions or sexually fondling her while she’s unconscious, nor of delegating such dominance to others: When she discloses to one of his lackeys that she has dipped into Michael’s funds, the stinging slap she gets proves early on that she has no allies in her boyfriend’s world. So when she encounters genial, blokishly handsome Dutch yacht owner Tomas (Thijs Römer) by chance, the flirty frisson that sparks between them seems a veritable lifeline.

The loveless love triangle that develops between these three privileged ciphers drives the plot-light proceedings: Tomas’s corner of it looks gentler than Michael’s, but Sascha is ultimately just toying with one alpha-male owner over another. Eklöf and co-writer Johanne Algren have conceived her as a character almost defiantly without agency, perversely drawn to the lack of adult responsibility that comes with an absence of power. “Holiday” tacitly invites viewers to consider whether she’s purely a victim or masochistically complicit in her own debasement.

Yet the stakes shift somewhat after that galling, aforementioned rape scene, during which Michael brutally commandeers her body on the living room floor in broad daylight. Captured in unblinking long shot by cinematographer Nadim Carlsen — not from a respectable distance but a disempowering one — it’s a horrible, stomach-tightening, film-galvanizing turning point, at which our impenetrable heroine’s lack of control seems, for the first time, to take her off guard. What ensues isn’t the feminist revenge tale you might expect at this juncture, though it seems the male violence used against her will be reappropriated.

How much the film wants or expects its audience to empathize with Sascha is ambiguous, with Sonne’s skilfully pinched performance itself taking no sides: Where viewers land on this china-brittle character will guide their response to the question of whether “Holiday” degrades her any less than her male oppressors do. Either way, it’s a cool, hard trip, icy in the fullest glare of the afternoon sun, in which even the pallid, expensively tacky interior of the villa — hats off to production designer Josephine Farsø — invites tension and judgment. We’ll be hearing more of Eklöf after “Holiday” completes its sure-to-be-contentious festival tour: She has the provocateur’s gift for images that needle, nettle and stick, well before their message locks firmly into place.

Sundance Film Review: 'Holiday'

Reviewed online, London, Jan. 26, 2018. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema Dramatic Competition.)

Production: (Denmark-Sweden-The Netherlands) An Apparatur presentation in co-production with Oak Motion Pictures, Commonground Pictures, Film I Väst. (International sales: Heretic Outreach, Athens.) Producer: David B. Sørensen. Co-producers: Trent, Charlotte Scott-Wilson, Jonas Kellagher, Simon Perry. 

Crew: Director: Isabella Eklöf. Screenplay: Eklöf, Johanne Algren. Camera (color, widescreen): Nadim Carlsen. Editor: Olivia Neergaard-Holm. Music: Martin Dirkov.

With: Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde, Thijs Römer, Adam Ild Rohweder, Yuval Segal, Stanislav Sevcik, Morten Hemmingsen, Bo Brønnum, Michiel de Jong, Saxe Rankenberg Frey, Laura Kjær. (Danish, English, Dutch dialogue)

More Film

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • berlin film festival placeholder berlinale

    Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners: Complete List

    The 69th Berlin Film Festival kicked off on Saturday, with 16 films vying for the Golden and Silver Bears, among them such critically acclaimed entries as Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chinese drama “So Long, My Son” and “By the Grace of God” by François Ozon. Juliette Binoche served as Jury President, with other members of the jury [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content