The director's idea, empathy and its limits, gives rise to the presence of empathy and contempt in Moodysson's character interpretations and the pressure points of plot and character that prompt change. In a sense, the director's idea creates a pathway into the narrative. In "Fucking Amal," the main character, Elin, is bored. She is attractive and energetic and passionate. Her openness and her insensitivity commingle to make us wary of empathizing with her. In the progression of her relationship with Agnes we can see her shift from poseur and experimentalist to a more authentic person. Her energy and authenticity make Elin an empathic character. To elevate that sense of empathy Moodysson communicates a gentle contempt toward the well-meaning parents, toward the cruelty of adolescent boys, and toward the need to conform found among the school population at large.
In "Together" Moodysson is most empathic to Eva and Stefan. It is the children who suffer most in a family breakup. The gentle contempt is amply spread around the adult population. Goran is chided for his idealism, Lena for her promiscuity, Anna for her exhibitionism, and Eric for his rigidity and his anger. The contempt is not so great as to squeeze the charm out of these characters, but it is a presence.
Empathy is at its most poignant for Volodya and Lilja in "Lilja 4-Ever," and contempt is at its height when aimed at Geko and Rickard in "A Hole in My Heart," but both empathy and contempt are operative in each of these films. What is clear is that Moodysson is empathetic toward children, even a grown one like Eric in "A Hole in My Heart," and he views adult behavior as contemptible. The men in both "Lilja 4-Ever" and "A Hole in My Heart" are hateful and abusive toward children and women. This view of character permeates all of Moodysson's work.
To understand the why of the children/adult fault line in Moodysson's work we need to think of him as a moralist embracing a set of values in his work. Although values are central to the work of Moodysson's fellow countryman Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules") and the independent filmmaker Alexander Payne ("Sideways"), they are not a central focus for most directors.
To highlight his exploration of values Moodysson has opted to 283 utilize two genres that put a clash of values at the core of the narrative: situation comedy and melodrama. Because situation comedy and melodrama can be considered to be opposites, this choice becomes even more understandable. In "Fucking Amal" and "Together," the dramatic arc is typical of a situation comedy. In comedies, the clash of values emanates from child versus adult and conformist versus nonconformist conflict. Moodysson uses a melodrama story frame for "Lilja 4-Ever" and "A Hole in My Heart." In the melodrama, the clash is exclusively between the child and adult. The powerless children Lilja and Volodya struggle for their dignity and a sense of power over their lives. In the melodrama, however, the outcome is dark and unyielding. Only death provides a playfulness and dignity absent in the lives of these two children. The clash of values and the morality/immorality implications are clear and foregrounded in Moodysson's films.
To support his interpretation of and empathy for his child characters, Moodysson opts for transformation via relationships. Agnes transforms Elin in "Fucking Amal" and Goran is transformed by living with his sister Elisabeth in "Together." Plot is a barrier that has a negative impact on Lilja in "Lilja 4-Ever" and on Eric and Rickard in "A Hole in My Heart." Interestingly, both plots have to do with exploitation—the prostitution of Lilja in Sweden in "Lilja 4-Ever" and the making of the porno film in "A Hole in My Heart." For the most part, plot occupies the adult tier in these stories and the character relationships for the most part occupy the child tier. Moodysson the moralist is embedding empathy in relationships and contempt within the plot.
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