Review: ‘Silvana’

Music doc roars with grrrl power

4 mins read

(Sweden, 95 min.)
Dir. Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, Christina Tsiobanelis

“Is this the lesbian revolution?” asks a rocker in Silvana. The revolution sings loudly and proudly in this revitalising documentary about Swedish rapper Silvana Imam. She might be a blond-haired and blue-eyed white girl, but Imam can really drops some beats. She smashes the patriarchy rhyme by rhyme with songs about loving women. Silvana gives the fight for equality a defiant punch of grrrrl power with this exciting and fluidly unconventional music doc.

The film follows Imam from the beginning of her career in 2013 and watches her skyrocket to fame as she becomes an angry anti-establishment voice speaking truth to power in provocative songs. Her angst-ridden lyrics ridicule poorly endowed, Swastika-kissing white guys who can’t accept that all love is equal. Silvana sees Imam as the voice of a generation of young queer women who can express themselves with a level of pride few women could a decade before. Even better, her music packs a mean bite by challenging conventions set by the patriarchy and draws attention to the growing xenophobia in Europe. Every time she takes the stage, Imam gets radically political.

Much of the film features Imam’s relationship with pop star Beatrice Eli, who offers music that is more accessible and euphoric than Imam’s is—and one could assume it’s more popular—not that she seems to mind. Silvana sees the women create a beautiful harmony as they use the arts to amplify queer voices and encourage other lesbians to lend their voices to the fight.

Directors Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, and Christina Tsiobanelis cut Imam’s rise to fame with images of her childhood. The Lithuanian-born Imam says she knew she was gay from an early age, and one particular scene of a birthday party proves especially effective as she reflects on a moment in which her seven-year-old self desperately wanted to profess love for another girl know. A trip back home confronts Imam with the conservatism of her community—try not to cringe when Imam acquiesces to a neighbour’s nosy prodding and says she has a boyfriend. The growth of Imam’s sexual identity provides a fair backdrop and context for her fight.

Equally effective is a trip to a church where Imam hopes to perform. She tells the directors to keep the cameras off out of respect for the institution, but the filmmakers smartly keep the audio rolling as Imam converses with the priest. He lectures Imam on the wickedness of women, likening them to necks that manipulate heads (heads being men), and uses his holiness to put her in her place for her sexuality. Despite the progressive atmosphere of the concert halls and the pubs, the institutions of the world fail to recognize change.

Silvana offers invigorating montages of concerts and performances as Imam and Eli energize their audiences and celebrate girl-on-girl love with racy and defiant lyrics. The edgy music fuels the film as the directors mirror Imam’s anti-establishment style by forgoing convention in composition and editing. The queer framing leaves portraits of Imam askew with negative space and handheld camerawork, while the editing is alternately fluid and angry. Silvana yells just as much as it sings, but more often than not, this doc roars.

Silvana screens at Inside Out on Saturday, May 26 at 2:30 PM at TIFF Lightbox.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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