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Loveable (Elskling)

Maria's perfect, happy marriage begins to collapse for no apparent reason, in this this humanistic Norwegian drama - in the Official Competition of the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival


Maria (Helga Guren) is young, beautiful and confident. She makes an advance and immediately scoops the irresistible Sigmund (Oddgeir Thune), a blue-eyed wonder desired by half the women of Norway. They have wild and intense sex. Sigmund is very accepting of Maria’s two children from her previous marriage. They promptly get married and have two loving children of their own. What could possibly go wrong? Fast forward seven years. Sigmund leaves for several months due to his work commitments. The relationship will never be the same upon his return.

The once warm and energetic Maria welcomes Sigmund back with an icy embrace. She feels abandoned. She believes that she shouldn’t bringing the children up “on her own”. Sigmund is vaguely perplexed. After all, Maria had agreed to his long absence. He has to make money in order to provide the family of six with a living, as Maria devotes herself entirely to motherhood and the household tasks (she has no nanny, and no formal job). This is a traditional marriage arrangement familiar to people of all ages not just in the Scandinavian nation, but pretty much anywhere on the globe. Maria’s behaviour becomes increasingly frantic. She snaps. Sigmund snaps back. She has a meltdown and seeks help from a psychotherapist, insisting that her husband joins the sessions. He does it grudgindly. While the triggers are very different, Maria’s erratic behaviour and sudden descent into despair mirrors that of Paula in Léonor Serraille’s Jeune Femme (2017).

Sigmund blames Maria for her poor anger management. Is he gaslighting her? There are no dimming lamps around. Sigmund is not the scheming Paul, and Maria is not the gullible Maria of George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944, incidentally the film that gave origin to the modern-day verb). Their conversations demonstrate a vague element of sexism, the view that women are to blame for the dysfunctionalities of the matrimony. The fact that the arrangement is consensual and that Maria lives in a society that her many other opportunities begets a different conclusion: she must share the blame for the eventual collapse or the relationship. Loveable does not set out to make a feminist statement, but instead to paint a realistic and relatable portrait of a strong and sensible human being on the edge. Those who have experienced depression understand that a clearly discernible trigger doesn’t always exist.

This is a very simple and universal story told with honesty and vigour. A deeply humanistic movie, with a straightforward message of self-discovery and conciliation. Maria has a lot of soul-searching to do before she understands her marriage is no longer the same. Her eldest daughter poses yet another challenge. The rebel teen is incapable of affection, and feels terribly embarrassed at the sight of her mother in front of her friends. What has Maria done wrong? Is this just a natural symptom of adolescence, or are her parental skills as unreliable as her romantic abilities? Unable to find the answers, Maria self-sabotages and tortures herself. She cannot accept the suggestions and commitments that she made herself. Is she playing games? No. She has simply made poor judgments, her sense of discernment obscured by the fear of losing the person whom she loves the most. The terrifying d-word becomes a very real prospect. Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Maria’s mother adds another degree of complexity to the story. She also “lost” her man, if in very difference circumstances. Maybe her inscrutable daughter is on the same path. These women crush under the weight of generational legacy, the notion that a lonely woman is an unhappy and failed one. It is Maria’s mother who reminds our protagonist that she should be able to laugh, and find a little joy in self-deprecation. Guren delivers a performance bursting with confusion, anxiety and authenticity.

Lilja Ingolfsdottir boasts occasional moments of humour. A scene in which Maria recollects her happiest memories to the sound of an ominous message sent by Sigmund repeated ad infinitum is particularly funny. A sad and beautiful little film that will linger in your thoughts. We all go a little crazy sometimes. And that’s perfectly fine.

Loveable is in the Official Competition of the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 03-07-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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