Isabella Eklöf’s new film Holiday stars Danish actress Victoria Carmen Sonne as the young and beautiful Sascha and is the Swedish filmmaker’s take on the gangster genre. A mish-mash of eclectic imagery (the film was shot on the Turkish Riviera), gratuitous violence, sex (with a shocking pornographic scene) and multiple languages (lots of subtitles, but the film is mostly in English) Holiday is a slow burn, but gradually builds to a vicious and deafening crescendo – equal parts Scarface and Wes Anderson. During the first half of the film, the stylised pacing fooled me into thinking I understood what was to come. The second half came along and squarely punched me in the jaw, leaving me in total disbelief.
Playing to a packed house at the annual event in Park City, Utah, Holiday left viewers stunned. No one was sure what they’d seen or even how to digest it. It’s a moral indictment against the world, but a vivid and gritty portrayal of what it’s like for young, beautiful women who get sucked into the drug trade. After watching the film, I sat down with the director and her lead star to find out what it was like working on set, how the project came together and what takeaways they want for the viewers.
The film seems like a Scarface/Wes Anderson mash-up. You have the glitz, dark themes and violence of Scarface, but everything is centred and framed like an Anderson movie. Was that your intention?
Isabella Eklöf: My intention was not to make a mash-up, but I’m certainly interested in the way Scarface portrays family. But of course, I was interested in the female perspective. I really like Scarface, everybody likes Scarface, and yes, it was in the back of my mind the whole time.
The centred thing: it’s not just Wes Anderson. It’s a whole range of directors that use that stuff, including Todd Solondz who did Palindromes. It’s not a direct Wes Anderson reference, but it’s a reference to a kind of storytelling that he and many others work with. I’m a part of that sort of movement, so to speak, where you want to go away from the psychology of the close-up and the shot/camera/shot and you go back and forth between people talking. I find it empty. I want the long shot, and I want it to feel like I position people, because that’s what you do in a movie. That’s the idea to be honest. This is what you want to look at right now – look, this is my stage and here’s what’s going to happen.
What did you think when you first read the script and found out what the role entailed?
Victoria Carmen Sonne: I received it when I was on the metro. I think it was summer, It was kind of warm – around late afternoon. I was like okay I’m going to go home, I’m going to print it and then sit and read so I can take notes. I walked by a café, and I decided to have a quick iced coffee. I sat down and I couldn’t help it. I opened the script on my small iPhone 5. I just sat there and read the whole scripting. I wasn’t actually thinking much while reading, I was just experiencing it from the beginning to the end. Then afterwards I was stunned; I felt a really strong connection to the script and the character – instantly.
What does it mean to tell this story from a female perspective with all the graphic violence and sex?
Isabella: Men have a fascination with action; car chases and stuff, which really bores me. I wanted to get inside that to understand the theology – if you will – the psychology of it. What happens to people who are in this situation? Not just the outlaw, but all the people around him. That’s more interesting, partly because the story hasn’t been told much. I thought there must be so much more here; choosing to live that life is in itself such a big deal. So, all the action – it’s just, yeah, okay, that’s fun – but then what? I found that interesting.
She’s a girl trapped in this power dynamic, and we were looking for a way to transmit that that’s both dramatic but also intensely present – so you don’t lose the moment in the dramatic structure. It took a lot of time to get that balance right.
How much of Sascha is you and how much is the character?
Victoria: For me it’s always about trying to let go from the inside out. I’m discovering the world through Sascha’s eyes. When you’re working from that place as an actress, the impulses that you get are not quite yours, you’re experiencing Sascha’s point of view through her eyes.
For example, if somebody came up to me and hit me in the face – me as Victoria – I would react one certain way. Maybe I would hit back. I would push. Maybe I would just yell. I would say ’What the fuck’, or something like that. But if it was Sascha, she would react differently. You can start working with these impulses from the character’s point of view, from her experience of the world. It’s an interesting combination that you as the actor are experiencing as Sascha.
What was it like working with Victoria, especially given the situations you put her in as an actor?
Isabella: It was great working with Victoria, from start to finish, because she’s intelligent and has an intuitive understanding of the character. She knows what Sascha is going through and she sympathises with her. She understands why I would make this movie. It’s been easy. Super easy. We didn’t even have to talk much.
Do you think this story is representative of the way a lot of young, beautiful women are co-opted or drafted into the drug world?
Victoria: I think it’s representative of not just the way young, beautiful women get roped into it, but how a lot of women of all ages are dragged into power dynamics that aren’t fair for them. I feel like what Sascha had was a meltdown, but it originated from a place inside herself where she felt very much rejected. She has kept open the possibility of maybe being with Thomas and experiencing a more liberated, more flowing love. But she had to kill that place in herself. She’s shutting something down deep inside herself to be able to go through with being part of Michael’s life and family.
It’s a combination of huge rejection one more time in her life; once again feeling rejected and not good enough. I think in the end she felt safer around Michael, which is absurd because you would say that she’s not. I think the kind of dynamics of this relationship are solely defined by Michael. For her that’s a relief, because then she doesn’t have to put words to her thoughts and emotions; she can just act or react in certain very strict, outlined areas.
Isabella: Young, beautiful women are especially vulnerable because they’re seen as a prize. People put more energy into getting power over them. She’s more of a commodity. But I think women of all ages and appearances experience the same pressure to jump into a dynamic that they didn’t set up, that they didn’t want. They’re just supposed to enter into it and fulfil the role that was made for them. But Holiday isn’t really about criminals – it’s about all of us. It’s about how we let ourselves be seduced by materials and the sliding scale of sinking deeper and deeper into moral compromise.