GÖTEBORG 2017: Katja Wik on her debut feature-film, ‘The Ex-Wife’

You started in the film industry as a casting director. How did that help your transition to becoming a director?

Through my work as a casting director, I could meet so many amazing actors. When I was working, I’d find these actors, turn them into characters and then another director would take them off to make a movie. I always believed I could do it better myself. I started working and made a short film called Victim-Mentality Rhetoric, which is an introduction to The Ex-Wife.

I am primarily interested in acting and actors, and I believe their faces make everything. I like to follow them through a scene and I’m so happy now that I’m able to choose my own characters and I work very closely with them during the process.

The film centres around three women in three different relationships. Did you want to make the characters the focus of the film?

I wanted to make a thematic film about these roles women take. I wanted to portrait a situation that is recognisable to everyone, even if they don’t want to see it. Nothing happens in the film, it’s a small argument or drama in the grand scheme of things. But for these women, it’s a huge issue. And it’s an issue people can relate to in their daily lives. People may watch the film and believe that the issues presented aren’t huge, but it’s important to look at it and think ‘this can be my life’.

Are the stories based on real experiences?

I worked a lot during the research stages, interviewing different people about their relationships. I was primarily interested in the dialogue between the characters. I like experiencing how people talk to each other and how they sound in different situations. It’s interesting to see how people react in different situations.

Something I was noticing was how women tend to adjust themselves in a relationship. There’s a scene in the film where the girlfriend gets told off by her boyfriend for being too loud and happy at a party, almost like he is embarrassed by her, and she feels at fault and wants to change. But he will never change; he can do whatever he wants but she is going to change. The same goes for the married couple, not wanting to take responsibility for their children and creating their own rules. Because of this, it was important for me to have the male characters in much of the film, often alongside the women. That way you can see that there are both sides to a story. Either you don’t feel sympathy for anybody or you feel sympathy for everybody. Perhaps it is because we feel very trapped in these positions we create for everyone. Women shouldn’t just identity as women; they should find their own identity.

Why did you decide to call the film The Ex-Wife, particularly because the film feature the three women equally?

When I started the film, I thought of the ex-wife as the ex-woman. In most movies, the ex-wife is a side character who never receives a lot of focus. In The Ex-Wife, we not only focus on the ex-wife but we also show two characters who are in the earlier stages of the relationship. We show how it is to be young and what it’s like when you have children. The girlfriend character talks about being a wife with kids, the ex-wife talks about being young. There’s always a very romantic feel about longing for the past, so we wanted to show it too. When you are twenty years old everything feels possible. But then you feel pressure to find a job and a relationship, and The Ex-Wife feels like the perfect title for this.

The character is so perfect, too!

She’s amazing and we worked intensely on getting her right. Even if people didn’t want to see a character like this, we knew we had to do it because it would be quite funny. People will find ways to relate to her.

Do you feel you are portraying women in a positive or negative way?

When you make a film about women it feels like you must take responsibility for the whole group. Personally, I can see behaviour in myself reflected through these characters. I feel a lot of sympathy for the ex-wife because she’s in a position that no one asked her to take. It just turned out that way because that’s the way we are told it goes. The ex-wife turned into the type of person she never wanted to be and she doesn’t like it, but everyone reassures her it’s the way it must go. But she doesn’t want to be there, and that’s very interesting to me.

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.