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‘I Want to Be Surprised!’

A review of I Love You: A Divorce Comedy, directed by Johan Brisinger, and an interview with the lead actors.

I Love You: A Divorce Comedy is a Swedish comedy that shows the aftermath of a separation, and expresses its admiration towards Stockholm. While the images are remarkable and possible tourists’ magnets, the plot is completely predictable, which makes it quite difficult for the viewers to enjoy the film. Unlike the film, the interview with the lead actors Björn Kjellman and Christine Meltzer cannot be more enjoyable. I asked them about the film and its content, and Stockholm among others.

I Love You: A Divorce Comedy depicts the dissolution of an upper-class nuclear family, and follows the life of the husband and the wife after their separation. Gustaf and Marianne have been married nearly twenty years, but their marriage is more similar to a prison of everydayness. One day Marianne makes a decision and announces that she wants a divorce. Gustaf cannot really handle the situation first, he is trying to convince himself and everyone else around him that this is just temporary, and everything goes back to normal soon.

Having the ambiguous title of I Love You: A Divorce Comedy, one might wonder whether it refers to the love that used to sparkle between the main characters, or it is mainly a dedication to Östermalm, one of Stockholm’s posh areas. Even if the additional text highlights the event that accelerates the plot, the scenes shot outside always manage to draw attention to the main attractions of Östermalm, including artistic and cultural spaces. The characters are more likely to cycle or wander around in the streets during day and night to persuade us to really experience the area, to feel the genuine Stockholm vibe.

Why is the film a disappointment, though? Whereas each scene is based on a humorous situation that makes the viewers laugh, the film as a comedic entity doesn’t provide room for surprises. Sitting in the cinema in front of the screen viewers are forced to follow a river of sequences that they know inside out. They all know the characteristics of romantic comedies, and those traits let them feel comfortable and satisfied. The film enables them to enjoy the familiar scenes, which are undoubtedly funny, sometimes even hilarious, and at the same time it contributes to their self-esteem by letting them believe they are in a powerful position, since they know what happens next. They by no means control the events taking place, but they have the illusion that they actually do.

But is this enough for a comedy to stand out today? Certainly not. Even though the Swedish motion picture is more related to films like Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007) and 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009), the endings of which are not entirely happy and shadowed by a certain amount of sorrow, Johan Brisinger’s film goes further than it should be. Important issues connected to relationships or life in general are raised, comic and dramatic elements, which also function as turning points in the plot, are intertwined, but by the very end the importance of those are evaporated due to the addition of ‘shocking’ scenes following each other. At this point the film sort of turns into its own parody, and leaves the audience nothing but the question of ‘Could this really happen in reality?’

We sat down with the actors, Björn Kjellman and Christine Meltzer, who portray Gustaf and Marianne. In one of the cozy rooms of Nobis Hotel, we talked about the film, Östermalm and the development of Swedish film production.

Cinema Scandinavia: I assume you’ve had a great time when shooting the film. First, I’d be interested in what attracted you to be part of this particular project.

Christine Meltzer: I was very happy when I was asked to play Marianne’s character. I found the script really funny, and I also had the chance to work with Björn.

Björn Kjellman: I was involved in the project pretty early, but I didn’t really count on it that it would become a film. The script got better and better, so I was really happy when it finally happened. I also liked the idea of a comedy taking place in an upper-class environment where everything cracks.

Östermalm has an important role in the film. Do you have a special memory of this part of Stockholm you’d like to share with the readers of Cinema Scandinavia?

BK: I lived in Östermalm when I was young, and shared an apartment with Thomas Hanzon, who plays my brother in the film, and Lena Endre. The toiled was outside, and the shower was in the attic so we can really say that Östermalm wasn’t always that posh.

CM: I’ve never lived in Östermalm, so I have no special memory but I go there to party. Stureplan is where you should go if you want to feel the real Stockholm vibe.

A lot of things happen to Gustaf and Marianne in such a short time; they have to cope with emotionally difficult situations. What would you say your characters’ greatest strengths and weaknesses are?

CM: She’s very brave. She dares to say that she doesn’t want to be in that relationship anymore. However, she’s not entirely sure where she ends up. It is completely a new situation for her.

BK: His greatest weakness is that he never questions life, and therefore the news of the separation totally comes out of the blue. But he manages to deal with the situation, and he shows his strength in adapting to the new circumstances.

Related to what you’ve just said, I’d say your characters embark on a quite different journey, and the events happening after Marianne’s announcement are fairly conventional. Gustaf finds someone half his age and gets wasted, while Marianne falls in love with an older man. She is still having fun but it seems she wants certainty and safety in her life. Do you agree or disagree with that?

CM: After the separation she starts dating an Italian guy, who previously dated her best friend, so the situation is far away from being safe. It is a really huge step and difference for her, and she definitely needs to break out from her comfort zone.

Björn: I don’t really agree, even if there are conventional parts in the script. I don’t think it’s that obvious that they are on an adventure you’ve described. Gustaf is acting out of confusion. He is certainly not looking for adventure to be young again, but he suddenly finds himself in this party where there are so many young people, and one of them is giving him drugs. He tries it, but he doesn’t do it to feel young again. Of course, it could have been like that, but I don’t see this happening in the film. Sure, his love interest is much younger than him. In that sense the film is quite conventional. Nonetheless, the film also portrays a very young man who finds Marianne extremely attractive, and he even wants to take her home. A lot of excited things happen to her as well.

Every job can be tough sometimes. What was the greatest challenge you had to overcome during shooting?

CM: Not to laugh! Björn was so funny all the time. It was absolutely a challenge for me not to burst into laughter when the camera was on.

BK: My challenge was not to start laughing when she was laughing! But the challenge was really the usual: to take every scene seriously. I loved every minute of the shooting, it was a great fun being part of it. There is a giggle throughout the film, but there is also a great amount of seriousness in it. It is hitting the right note; this is what we are always aiming at.

As you said, Björn, I Love You: A Divorce Comedy is a comedy but with seriousness in it. I’m wondering if you prefer comedy or drama?

CM: I would definitely love to do drama in the future.

BK: I’ve done everything in terms of genres. The fun part being an actor is that you can do everything. You can learn by doing different kinds of things and you never get bored. You could easily do a very dramatic scene about divorce having the same base. In the film we hold a laughing mirror. You can show reality in so many ways.

How long did it take to shoot the film?

BK: Six weeks.

Can it be considered as a normal amount time to shoot a film here in Sweden?

BK: When I started working in the business, it took usually much longer. I remember I did a TV series back in 1990. It consisted of three 3-hour-long episodes. We filmed it for eighty days, and I wasn’t in all the scenes. I did another TV series recently, I was in every scene, and it took only thirty-five days to shoot it.

That’s a difference… Are you taking a break now or working on something?

BK: Christine is doing a TV series for channel 5. She works together with Krister Henriksson, Jonas Karlsson, Peter Magnusson, Anki Lidén and Rakel Wärmländer.

CM: Björn has a TV series entitled Delhis vackraste händer coming up this Christmas. It is based on a book of the same title by Mikael Bergstrand, who lives in Malmö. It was shot in India, and the other actors are also from there.

CategoriesIssue 16
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.