You know when you’ve had such a non-stop rollercoaster of a vacation that you feel like you need a holiday to recover from your holiday? Isabella Eklöf’s audacious debut might elicit a similar effect after taking in her Holiday, although it’ll likely be a faith-in-humanity-restoring spell in rehab rather than a battery-recharging lie on the beach that this dark tale of human cruelty will engender.
The story follows Sascha, a beautiful young Danish twenty-something who is holidaying in Turkey with her big shot drug lord boyfriend Michael and his cast of fawning cronies for the first time. From the opening minutes of the film, we are made to understand in no uncertain terms that Sascha is an entirely expendable drug runner and trophy girlfriend of Michael, a shiny bauble to hang off his arm and satisfy his wants when he wants them satisfied.
Aside from these superficial and salacious purposes, Sascha seems to have very little else to do, other than witness her boyfriend/boss deal out disproportionate punishments to keep his lackeys in line and flirt with tall handsome Dutch men at the local ice cream parlour. The fact that she pursues the latter even with knowledge of the former speaks volumes about her character, an insight which will only deepen as the film progresses. A puppet to be used and abused (in sometimes horribly graphic manners), Sascha is a piece of flotsam and jetsam adrift on a sea of corruption, drug trafficking and despicable human behaviour, and her paper-bag-in-the-wind-like acceptance of this fate is what fascinates and infuriates about the film in almost equal measure.
A subtle but sterling performance by Victoria Carmen Sonne in the lead role gives Sascha just the right amount of vacuity, treading the line between guileless airhead and corrupted innocent with gaudy style. Eklöf deserves high praise for her framing of the film as well, resisting judgement of Sascha or her cohorts through long, static shots and reserving close-ups for select scenes only. The pace of the film is also well-measured; after the slow-burning fuse of the first half, the fireworks begin to fly in the second when the true enormity of Sascha’s situation reveals itself.
As the pace picks up, so too does the unpredictability of the storyline, with an unexpected ending that turns tropes more than a little skew-whiff, if not completely on their head. In an era where female subjugation is such a hot potato, it’s difficult to fathom what contribution to the debate Eklöf is making. A damning picture of male entitlement? A withering critique of those with money? Something else entirely? Your guess is as good as anyone’s, but the enigma, like Sascha herself, is an absorbing one, even if it does leave a sour and insalubrious taste in the mouth.
At the Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 2 Aug 2019