Every Other Couple: An interview with director Mia Halme

Directed by Mia Halme / Produced by Aleksi Salmenperä for SahaDok / Country: Finland / Language: Finnish

DOK Leipzig (World Premiere) / DocPoint Helsinki (Local Premiere) / Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (North American Premiere)

We’ve all heard the statistics; 50% of all married couples will end up divorced. In this deeply personal story, award-winning film-maker Mia Halme takes us into the lives of three Finnish ex-couples as they talk about their separation process. They reflect on happier times when love blossomed, and recount the unforgettable day when they knew their marriage was over. Coping with the stigma of a broken family, financial concerns and how to navigate redrawn social circles, they now must move on with their lives alone. In some cases, they are forced to move forward for the well-being of their children.

Mia Halme

How did you decide to make a documentary about divorce?

When you hear about divorce, it is often the couples explaining how they managed to get over it and are friends now, or it’s the complete opposite and they are now enemies. It feels like there’s more to the story than that. I saw separation everywhere around me; it appeared as a phenomenon and I wanted to look at it deeper.

I started by making several background interviews and the way people talked about their separation touched me. Most of them remembered a certain moment as the clear moment of separation. They talked about it with clear familiarity; they had all the colours in mind, all the words that the other one had said, smells, weather, etc. Some of them never stopped loving each other. Most of them wanted to handle the separation peacefully and guarantee that the children don’t suffer too much.

I see separation rates as one very interesting mirror of our time in the western world. We are too impatient and individualistic to take care of our relationship, women are equal enough, especially financially, to have a divorce, and we aren’t that religious anymore that it could prevent us leaving from a marriage that is not good for us.

How did you find the participants for the documentary?

I followed six individuals, three ex-couples. I wanted the main characters to have children so that they must continue to deal with each other after separation. Looking at statistics, people around forty have the highest divorce rates, so I wanted to look at them. I didn’t want to have one young couple, one on the sixties and one homosexual couple because then they would have been representatives of their own group and not so clearly part of the phenomenon. Couples in my film have appropriately different kinds of stories. Some have a blended family, some are more distant than others and reasons to divorce are different kinds. Also, ways to handle with life after separation are different, more pragmatic or more emotional.

Has your opinion on divorce changed during the making of the documentary?

I understood that separation is one crisis in life that maintains as an experience in your life forever but may change your way towards good and energetic and self-acknowledgment.

What surprised you most about the filming process?

How beautiful people are when they give up. When they don’t try fake anything in sense to be more attractive or something like that. When they are honest with their good moods and not that good moods. I was surprised how wise and warm people can be when they are in critical but bare and bright situation.

Do you feel your documentary has a ‘Finnish’ feel, or could it be a universal story?

It has a Finnish feel because characters are Finnish and so are their homes, but I think the story is universal. Feelings of love, desire, rejection and shame are universal. And so are reproduction instinct, marriage, family and separation. The film had its world premiere in DOK Leipzig competition and is going to have its North American premiere in Hot Docs international competition, so I believe there is something universal in the film.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.