Movie Review: Holiday (2018)

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Unable to interpret the frantic warnings of strangers as she rides by on a scooter with a perilously long scarf tied around her neck, Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne), the Danish teenage trophy girlfriend of a mobster more than twice her age, spends a sun, sand, and sin filled Turkish vacation blissfully unaware of the danger she's in before it's too late.

And while it's evident from the earliest moments of Swedish-born, Danish filmmaker Isabella Eklöf's startling feature-length debut Holiday that — long before she boards the scooter — the beautiful, submissive, and far too trusting Sascha is headed for a crash, the real question seems to be just how great of a fall she's willing to take in order to live a picturesque life.

Less the spoiled princess that men keep mistaking her for — although that definitely plays into it — than a lost girl looking for her own flock, when Sascha meets some Dutch tourists closer to her own age, including an attractive young man who's walked away from ethical compromise, she starts dividing her time between the two parties.

Questioning fleetingly and maybe for the first time just what it is she really wants for the future, almost as soon as she starts to break away from the dominant force of her drug lord sugar daddy Michael (played by Lai Yde as a man capable of violently changing on a dime), the two groups begin to overlap uneasily, with the uncertain Sascha stuck in the middle.

Not a romance by any means or even a true opus of self-discovery, reminiscent of a pendulum swinging from one end to the other, Eklöf’s film — like its fascinating characters — lives in the grayest of gray areas, sometimes caught between extremes.

Painted with its lush visuals and fresh soundtrack, on the surface, Holiday looks and sounds like a film by Sofia Coppola, minus her trademark romantic impressionism which has been substituted with Eklöf's at times graphic, trigger-warning required, you-are-here approach to storytelling where behavior dictates not only plot but character.

Closer to a dark European companion piece to Andrea Arnold's American Honey or the oeuvre of Claire Denis, Eklöf's decision to remove herself from judgment when it comes to Sascha, Michael, and company and instead wait for them to go crashing into one another — whether accidentally or on purpose — makes this self-assured feature all the more rare.

Released after a recent top news story involved a young woman being sent back to Russia despite her pleas to American authorities that she'd allegedly heard conversations regarding the plot to rig the 2016 U.S. presidential election while entertaining men on an oligarch's superyacht, the sun-drenched frames of Holiday have never looked shadier than they do right now.

And while most of Sascha's boyfriend Michael's crimes are relegated to whispers, reactions, and intuitions, sadly, similar to the way that Sascha's scarf dangles close to her scooter's wheel midway through the movie, we fear it's only a matter of time before she finds herself caught up in something front page worthy as well.

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