Well, this is fun. It’s sub-titles drove everyone out of the TV room – the touch of Swedish also meaning they expected some gruesome murder mystery in 75 parts. How wrong they were – it’s a light, rather tender comedy about the death of an old marriage and the persistence of affection. Old Jack here rather enjoyed it, whilst also taking note for young Steve as he ploughs through the dark days of middle-age. So, recently translated from the original Swedish, give I Love You – A Divorce Comedy a go…
It sets its agenda out early. Gustaf and Marianne are tangibly not communicating when out with friends – his every word makes her flinch with frustration and ill-concealed rage. Theirs is a sexless life, a betrayal of the sexily presented early days: clawing over beds in romantic Paris, flirting whilst he ferociously types his novel, rolling about in pleasing lighting with none too honest close-ups. And…back to today…Gustaf is uptight, Marianne is angry and gets the plot going straight away: she wants a divorce and leaves.
Old Jack hasn’t been through this, but can smell the horror coming off both parties. Gustaf and Marianne are thrown into their own kinds of panic. Marianne goes out with her rather more footloose friend, nearly pulls in a bar, but vomits over the beautiful boy. Gustaf gradually implodes, knowing his own weakness in the face of his pissed-off teenage kids, twitching at some sharp interactions with a beautiful courier, and bringing out the unfinished novel in some kind of creative sulk. He even orders a typewriter, for analogue in a world of communication is the only way.
It’s like watching two encrusted old fossils break out of their crustiness in a state of absolute terror. Christine Meltzer (Marianne) and Björn Kjellman (Gustaf) sell the panic, pickiness and jealousies with a pleasing lightness that had old Jack here chortling – and very glad to have been married ’til death did us part. Meltzer gives off marital exhaustion as a reaction to feeling unloved. Kjellman continues his horrified, faintly passive middle-aged shock that I first saw in the terrific The Most Beautiful Hands of Delhi (Delhis vackraste händer on Netflix, Kjellman fans).
Each party meets another, Marianne meets Rodolfo (Rodolfo Corsato – all quiff and cool) an artist who nearly speaks Swedish and grasps most of her early insults. Gustaf heads off with the courier Rita (Nour El-Refai – fun and disappointed), but for a truncated relationship lest this seems a tad too mid-lifey. There comes a point – after embarrassment, party drug-dancing, and rows in front of teachers and children – where the central couple begin to grow up, but the film keeps you on tenterhooks. It is never entirely clear whether the marriage can be salvaged, and I’m not sure I ever wanted it to be. There are broader family scenes and an affectionate hug near the end which the entire film pivots towards, but still lands with the warmth of a sweet surprise.
There’s also a bit of a comedy plot burbling along in the background. Oddly, I didn’t mind its gravity coming off one mighty coincidence in the final third. I’d suggest you don’t go looking for it. Just sit back and enjoy a nicely handled, actually funny, unsentimental but sweet tale of divorce. Really.
Looking at you, son.