Comprised of three narratives linked together by a common theme, The Ex-Wife is an artistically styled insight into relationships, spread out between three characters: there’s The Girlfriend, who is smitten with her boyfriend, The Wife, who is tired of her husband’s childish ways, and The Ex-Wife, who is framed as the result of the previous two’s attitudes. While the varying narratives never intersect, director Katja Wik provides similar issues in each of the three relationships, evoking different stages of the one failed relationship.
The first half an hour of the film is the best, as the film playfully introduces these three characters. Implementing a free rhythm that is reminiscent of the works of Roy Andersson (of which Wik was the casting director, this introductory portion of the film presents a series of humorous vignettes of the daily struggles in these three women’s lives. Once the film settles down into its conflicts, the three parallel plots mellow out and force things forward. Though some of the charm is certainly still there, the individual conflicts are too vague for the scenes to function as a relationship drama. Where The Ex-Wife does well in these conflicts is the way it doesn’t pick a side. In a film like this, it would’ve been easy to present the women as the ‘right’ parties in each conflict, but here it’s hard to judge whether it’s the men or the women in the wrong. Throughout the film, the men are almost always there, and it works so well that each character in the film is both right and wrong in the varying arguments. However, this only applies to the characters of The Girlfriend and The Wife; The Ex-Wife is too far gone and her ‘woe is me’ attitude is nothing more than a warning to the younger women, who are picking apart small and insignificant things about their men.
While Wik is a fan of strong characters, these characters never have enough depth to become their own. For example, the story of The Girlfriend almost stands out on its own as it shows the character go from defiantly stumbling through town on her high heels to flirting at a bar and then meekly taking a backseat in her boyfriend’s life. But her character wouldn’t mean much if it wasn’t placed alongside The Wife’s need to adopt the role of the no-fun woman in response to her husband’s childish behaviour. Neither of these stories would have worked well if not interspersed with The Ex-Wifes obsessing and moaning about her divorce.
Much in the way that life itself can seem, Wik’s film struggles to make an impact in each vignette, but it is on a wider scale that these experiences add up to something more resonant and profound. These characters are designed to be unique and unsympathetic, and looking at the film on a wider scale it’s possible to come to the conclusion. However, give the film a little too much thought and it will fall into a cliche. This is because we never get to know the characters; if the film is about structuralist power relations the characters are too similar to each other. The men are also practically the same person; all have a relationship to alcohol and infidelity. None of the couples have any communication skills, which brings to mind the idea that perhaps this is just a film about a bunch of shallow people who are too spoiled and ignorant to find happiness in life. So if not given too much thought, The Ex-Wife is a funny and interesting character drama, but think about it too much and perhaps you come to these very shallow conclusions.