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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
Written by: Isabella Eklöf
Directed by: Isabella Eklöf
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Danish, English, Dutch, with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 02/15/2019

Holiday (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bummer Vacation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm a little late coming to this film, which is already showing at the famous Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. It's the feature directing debut of Isabella Eklöf, who co-wrote last year's Border (currently nominated for a single Oscar for Best Makeup). While Border was pretty dark and messed-up, Holiday came to me with a warning that it makes Border look tame. I'll just let you know now that this statement is absolutely correct, and it is all because of one scene. (Hint: if you'd rather not know, then please stop reading here and check back after you see the movie.)

Otherwise, Holiday is something like a dysfunctional family/crime drama. We meet Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne), a thin, hard, pretty blonde who, in the opening scenes, appears to be in trouble with a gangster type; sitting together in a car, she pleads with him about something, and he smacks her face. Not long after she meets some (hopefully) friendlier faces at a hotel resort. One of them is her boyfriend Michael (Lai Yde), a dangerous drug lord. Together with some henchmen and other friends and girlfriends, they go on a vacation to the Aegean coast in Turkey.

Sascha is having a good time in the sun when she meets yachtsman Tomas (Thijs Römer) while buying ice cream, and they share a pleasant flirt. Over the next several days, she occasionally slips away to see Tomas, but of course Michael finds out about it. That's about when the horrifying, formidably shocking moment comes in. Michael rapes her, but not just violently; he fully and totally abuses her in an inhuman way. The camera looks on from a distance, not cutting, as if nonchalant about the act. A henchman wanders down the stairs to the living room area where the act is occurring, sees it, and discreetly turns and leaves again.

It slowly dawns on you that this very well could be really happening, not faked for the camera, but actually performed by the actors. It's a hideous moment, and from that point on, everything in Holiday looks and feels different. The story ends in more violence, but nothing like what you'd expect. The aftereffect takes the form of many questions. Is this a feminist tale? Is Sascha in charge of her own destiny, or is she a victim? What is the nature of women's relationships with powerful or wealthy men? On all these themes and more, the movie is remarkably ambiguous in its icy, nasty way.

Normally this kind of deeply disturbing thing isn't something I'd heartily recommend. But Eklöf is eerily assured behind the camera, miraculously avoiding that malevolent feeling that someone like Gaspar Noe can convey, as if the audience were nothing more than a silly little science experiment to be poked at. Eklöf seems to respect our intelligence, seems to be risking something of her own in her work. Her pain and her experience results in a more nuanced, deeper discourse. So many other movies today about feminism and female power are presented as answers, definitions. Refreshingly, Eklöf is here to ask questions.

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