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A Norwegian Answer to ‘An Unmarried Woman’

A Norwegian Answer to ‘An Unmarried Woman’

The opening minutes of Lilja Ingolfsdottir’s debut feature evocatively convey the feeling of falling in love. Two incredibly attractive people lock eyes at a party and then have a series of casual encounters in which their mutual attraction becomes obvious. Then we’re treated to a montage depicting their whirlwind courtship, marked by intense physical passion and the sort of over-the-top giddiness accompanying a brand-new relationship. Unfortunately, that sort of feeling doesn’t last forever. A mere six minutes into the film, there’s a cut to “seven years later,” when it becomes obvious that the now-married couple are experiencing serious relationship troubles.

But the Norwegian film isn’t really about a couple breaking up. It’s about a woman finally discovering who she is and what she needs, and as such it succeeds beautifully. Loveable, receiving its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, should find receptive audiences worldwide.

Loveable

The Bottom Line

A penetrating look at the female psyche.

Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Cast: Helga Guren, Oddgeir Thune, Heidi Gjermundsen Broch, Marte Magnusdotter Solem, Elisabeth Sand
Director-screenwriter-Lilja Ingolfsdottir

1 hour 43 minutes

The film revolves around 40-year-old Maria (Helga Gurin, in a breakout performance), who finds her marriage to Sigmund (Oddgeir Thune, radiating charisma), her second, falling apart. She resents his constant traveling for work, leaving her to care for their four children (two from her first marriage, two from theirs) herself, and doesn’t hold back from bitterly expressing her feelings.

“This is no good,” a fed-up Sigmund finally tells her. “You have to get help with that anger of yours.”

Not long afterward, they separate, with Maria becoming adrift emotionally and at one point humiliating herself in a desperate effort to get Sigmund back. The couple begin sessions with a very patient therapist (Heidi Gjermundsen Broch), but it’s obvious that Sigmund has already made up his mind. And it becomes even more obvious when Maria receives an email from him in which he says, “Be prepared for me leaving the relationship.”

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This leads to another rapid-fire montage, demonstrating the filmmaker’s talent for editing, featuring quick glimpses at happier moments in the relationship accompanied by Sigmund uttering the same ominous phrase from the email.

Writer-director Ingolfsdottir reveals a keen insight into human behavior throughout the film, which is littered with memorable moments. An argument between Maria and Sigmund regarding the latter’s inability to sort the family’s laundry properly seems lighthearted at first, before revealing the deep fissures in their relationship. One of the most powerful scenes concerns Maria’s visit to her elderly mother (Elisabeth Sand, making a vivid impression in just a few minutes of screen time) that quickly devolves into uncomfortable truths and bitter recriminations. Another highlight is when Maria sees the therapist by herself and is encouraged to simply lie down on the couch and rest. The simple gesture of kindness reduces her to tears.  

Refreshingly, the film doesn’t make Sigmund into a stock male villain who’s abandoning the relationship because of, say, another woman. Although a subsidiary presence throughout much of the proceedings, he remains sympathetic, his deep unhappiness fully relatable.

Maria emerges as a complex figure, not always living up to the film’s title. Her inner journey proves fascinating thanks to the penetrating screenplay and Gurin’s mesmerizing performance, which proves daring in its willingness to reveal her character’s self-destructive tendencies along with her strengths. The actress, who’s onscreen nearly every minute, proves fully up to the challenge of anchoring the film, with her extensive stage credits, which include playing Nora in A Doll’s House and the title role in Hedda Gabler, clearly informing her work here.

Loveable, produced by Thomas Robsahm (The Worst Person in the World), feels like a worthy contemporary successor to Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman.  

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