Summer and holidays on-screen conjure up iconic images of characters bathed in a splendour of heat; Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast, Alain Delon in La Piscine and Charlotte Rampling in Swimming Pool. Adding her unique spin on this unique period of supposed relaxation, Isabella Eklöf’s directorial debut Holiday is an assured feature brutal gaze at the assertive nature of masculinity upon a toxic feminity.
Building upon themes established in her script for Ali Abbasi’s mesmeric Border, Eklöf’s crafts a fragile central performance from her lead actor, Victoria Carmen Sonne. Sascha (Sonne) is a tall blonde twenty-something who appears comfortable in her skin as she walks alone through an airport near the Turisk Riveria. Her tanned legs are supported by a stellar set of heels that immediately creates an idealised feminine image of beauty through a male gaze. Yet, behind this veneer rests a fragile person who is locked in an abusive relationship with Danish drug lord Michael (Lai Yde).
Visting his summer house, alongside his all-male team, Sascha idyll spends the days sunbathing and the evenings drinking heavily. Upon visiting a water park for the day with all her ‘friends’, an opportunity presents itself to escape this suffocating lifestyle when she meets Thomas (Thijs Römer), a Dutch sailor. As the tight ninety minutes play out, Sascha must make a pivotal life decision to leave behind a morally corroding lifestyle or find a normal life away from Michael for good.
However, through Eklöf’s ruthless observations on sex, class and family, one comes to view this world with a cold-blooded voyeuristic gaze. Though pathos is felt towards Sascha, particularly during a rape scene, Eklöf’s direction feels intentionally truthful to toxic male and female relationships, and not exploitative or sadistic. Such a strong sexual scene eerie feels organic to the world and is not included to simply shock or provoke. To the director, such a portrayal felt “necessary because I haven’t seen it portrayed from the female perspective.” In this decision, the director’s film recalls Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge of last year. Though not as hyper-stylized as this work, the two films share common ground in unapologetically observing the notion of an objectified female body in an aggressive man’s world. Supported by Sonne’s cold performance (in the best possible manner), one feels the disconnect between Sascha’s lifestyle under Michael and her desires to escape this gruelling world.
Adopting an alienating distance in the cinematography, Nadim Carlsen’s captures the clean aesthetics of holiday life in the white villas, clean oceans and bright summer clothes. The isolation that comes with this approach leaves a lingering presence of the facade all these characters live; their lives cling onto drugs, drink and cruelty. The abrasive manner of Michael’s crew constantly listening to aggressive Euro Techo furthers their disregard for courtesy behaviour not just to a woman but other human beings, regardless of sexuality. In the work of Martin Dirkov’s musical choices here, primarily in creating a purely diegetic soundscape, furthers Carlsen and Eklöf’s work in crafting an aggressive isolation perspective on the male gaze.
Unlike Revenge’s final act, Holiday offers little satisfaction in its climax. Sascha’s decision feels a final one and irreversible. Again, Sonne’s more than capable of acting makes this act feel disturbing and hard to process correctly without being in her shoes. Like Border’s honest assessment of relationships, Holiday is another strong and unfiltered tale on the honest truths of these connections between man and woman. A little hard-hitting in areas, Eklöf’s honesty behind the camera can only be praised in front of it.