The new documentary Army of Lovers in the Holy Land starts with the Swedish dance music group Army of Lovers taking the stage at the Tel-Aviv Pride fest in 2017. Absolutely beaming, the three members of the ABBA-esque 90’s dance music group wave and greet the crowd. Alexander Bard, Dominika Peczynski, and Jean-Pierre Barda have been at it since the late ’80s and were part of a movement that ushered in a renaissance of sexuality, pride, and flamboyant expression that paved the way for so many budding members of the queer community. You would think that with such iconic personalities in a reverent place, we would gain an insight into what it is to be a pioneer. No such luck here. While the documentary captures the who and why of its subjects, for the most part, we are left with questions and a desire to see much more.
If you don’t know Army of Lovers’ song Crucified, then Google it. An anthem of emancipation from the constraints of religion and dogmatic beliefs, this song was a staple at dance clubs back in the day. There is a theatricality to it that drew young gay men in droves. I suppose it only makes sense that director Asaf Galay turns his lens to the charismatic charter member of the group, Jean-Pierre Barda. A French-born Jew who was raised in Sweden, Barda becomes the center of the film. His sojourn becomes the focus as he leaves Sweden and becomes a citizen of Israel.
“…about a man finding the holy in the profane.”
Okay, but what about the overall group, Army of Lovers? Great question. We learn of their meteoric rise in the late 80s as a sexually-charged group of fabricated personalities. We see the talented vocalists that sang the songs that the group lip-synched to. The problem is that there are major details that are glossed over or totally ignored. Former member Camilla Henemark is all but ignored, and Michaela de la Cour’s blink-and-you-miss-it stint in the band is only referenced in stock footage. It is evident that the focus is not so much the group, but rather the journey that charter member Jean-Pierre Barda has taken. It’s quite a story, but this doc has little to do with the group and more about one man finding the holy in the profane.
Toward the end of the all-too-short look into the trio’s current adventures, we see Bard, Peczynski, Barda, enjoying a meal. The three catch up on life and the details that are lost through being disconnected. Peczynski pesters Barda on his sex life now that he is in Israel, and it is here that we see three old friends in a surprisingly charming moment. The shields are down, the show is over, and we see three artists living life.
The film ends with the unceremonious announcement that their appearance in Riga, Latvia, is their last. Barda assures his bandmates in a backstage toast that they will continue to get together, wear silly costumes, and drink. At one point in the film, Bard shares a Swedish saying, “If you can’t joke about it, you can’t be serious about it either.” This is the thesis of this animated little group of bon vivants, and it is swept aside in favor of a rather lopsided look at these queer icons. While I loved what was here, I really wanted a broader look at these trailblazers who flaunted convention and preached love.
"…a rather lopsided look at these queer icons."