Holiday is an unflinching depiction of abuse from debuting director Isabella Eklöf
Proceeded by a warning that the film contains graphic sexual violence, Isabella Eklöf’s feature debut Holiday is the definition of ‘challenging cinema’. An icy, provocative depiction of the abusive power dynamics between a gangster’s moll and her violent criminal boyfriend, Holiday is not an easy watch, but Eklöf’s assured direction and ambiguous storytelling prove rewarding for those who stick it out.
Victoria Carmen Sonne gives an impressively blank and closed off performance as Sascha, a young woman on holiday with her gangster boyfriend Michael (Lai Yde). Introduced as she receives harsh slaps from one of Michael’s associates, Sascha is a character allowed little agency or free will by the horrible men surrounding her; whenever she reacts impulsively or follow her own happiness, it usually leads to a beating or worse. Holiday’s fascinating opening credits depict Sascha performing an elaborate dance routine under flashing lights, as if we are peering into her psyche and seeing the caged animal trapped beneath her emotionless gaze.
Though some have criticised Eklöf for skimpily dressing Sascha and having her be routinely humiliated by the male characters, the director knows what she’s doing. The thin wisp of a plot, involving Sascha’s risky flirtations with a charismatic tourist, offers an interesting look at power and provides subtle insight into the mindset of our protagonist. We know this can’t end well, especially when Michael starts to noticeSascha’s new friendship, but where Eklöf takes the story still feels unpredictable. A talented first-time director, she infuses Holiday with tension and unflinching violence despite the gorgeous sunny location. It’s telling that the film’s controversial rape scene (which has stolen most of the film’s headlines) takes place in the middle of the afternoon.
Clearly inspired by many European arthouse and festival favourites, Eklöf’s direction occasionally feels a little too familiar (it’s not surprising to hear her cite Haneke as an influence), while the story and characters are so thin the film struggles to keep the momentum. With ideas this upsetting, Holiday was always going to test some people’s morals, and the ambiguous final shot raises uncomfortable questions about masochism and the reasons women stay in abusive relationships. Difficult but unflinching to the end, Holiday isn’t for everyone, but Isabella Eklöf has produced an unforgettable first feature.
By Harry J. Ford
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