Britt-Marie (Pernilla August) is a model housewife. In the evening she prepares a detailed list of what needs to be done tomorrow, the next day she gets up at six in the morning and takes care of the house: cleaning, washing, cooking, shopping and all that. She has been married to Kent (Peter Haber) for forty years: her husband is a businessman, often travels on business trips, and he comes home only for a delicious dinner and football on TV.
At some point, Britt-Marie receives a phone call telling her that her husband has had a heart attack. She arrives at the hospital and finds a woman noticeably younger than herself at her husband’s bedside. Britt-Marie, in general, guessed that Kent had a mistress: his shirts constantly smelled of perfume, and Britt-Marie herself did not use perfume, but now her guesses have grown into certainty. Returning home, Britt-Marie packed her things, left her wedding ring on the table, which she had not taken off for forty years, and left the house.
At the labor exchange, where Britt-Marie applied for a job, she was looked at with pity. The woman is sixty-three years old, she has not worked anywhere for forty years, well, who will take her anywhere? Nevertheless, one vacancy nevertheless turned up: in the distant provincial town of Borg, where the city-forming enterprise is a local pizzeria, a curator of a leisure center for young people is required. Also, the curator should coach the local children’s football team. The only thing Britt-Marie knows about football is that it is always very noisy during the game, but she has no other choice, and Britt-Marie goes to Borg.
In Borg, everything is very dull and depressing. The children’s leisure center is a heavily cluttered wreck that takes a long time to put in order, and the ten-year-old children from the same Britt-Marie football team accepted, to put it mildly, without enthusiasm, especially when they realized that she did not understand anything about football at all.
Nevertheless, Britt-Marie, who is used to always acting consistently, begins to clean up the leisure center, and also tries to figure out what football is all about and how these children should be coached.
Well, it gradually turns out that the town is not so bad: here, in addition to the pizzeria, there is also a tolerant restaurant, and the local policeman Sven (Anders Mossling) begins to knock wedges towards Britt-Marie.
Britt-Marie Was Here is the fourth novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. The first book at that time by little-known blogger Fredrik Backman, The Second Life of Uwe, which he wrote after reading in a newspaper a story about how a pensioner tried to sue the zoo, became super popular: it has a circulation of more than two million and it was translated into twenty-five languages.
Based on this book, director Hannes Holm made a film of the same name, and he managed to perfectly convey the spirit of this book: the picture is absolutely wonderful, it was super popular in Sweden and it had two Oscar nominations. (By the way, it seems that the Americans are preparing a remake of this film, with the main role planned there – well, of course – Tom Hanks.)
Actually, studying the information after watching this film, I found out that there is another film based on another Buckman novel – “Britt-Marie Was Here”. And I decided to watch it. True, the very low rating of this film on IMDB was somewhat embarrassing, but I still decided to make my own impression.
This picture was not directed by Hannes Holm, but by Tuva Novotny, a fairly well-known actress in Sweden who also appeared in American films: for example, she played a supporting role in the film “Annihilation”.
Some time ago, Tuva started working as a director in some series – in particular, she directed several episodes of the series “Lillehammer”. “Britt-Marie Was Here” is her first feature film. And this is very clearly visible, because with the full-length format Tuva feels quite insecure.
“Britt-Marie Was Here” is a big novel of four hundred pages, and in it Buckman, as is his nature, very carefully and very carefully builds the images of his characters, making them very lively, natural and understandable.
I haven’t read the novel yet (I’ll definitely read it), but, according to those who read it, the events in the film were very much cut off, as a result of which the characters of some characters, and especially Britt-Marie herself, became not very solid and understandable, and the omission of some storylines led to the fact that causal relationships here are far from always obvious. And here problems are observed both with Britt-Marie herself – during the entire film we actually learn very little about her – and with what is happening in the picture in general.
Yes, it is clear that a novel of four hundred pages cannot be fully contained in an hour and a half film. However, Hannes Holm in the film “The Second Life of Uwe” managed to preserve and convey what was the main charm of the novel, he also managed to show the previous life of Uwe and Sonya, which was important for understanding what happened to Uwe after the death of his wife.
And here – what do we know about Britt-Marie? Why is she so pedantic? What does she think, what does she feel? What did she dream about before and what does she dream about now? We don’t know any of this. The book pays a lot of attention to what happened in her childhood and adolescence, but in the film there are literally two flashbacks on this topic, which explain little, and that’s it.
And even in Borg, where almost the entire action of the film takes place, we still learn very little about the main character. Well, yes, the leisure center meticulously peels off. Well, yes, she is trying to learn something about football, because she is like a coach. But, in general, nothing more. The character, and this is the main role in the film, remained undisclosed. And this is precisely the problem of writing and directing, because Pernilla August, who played Britt-Marie, is a strong actress (she has a silver award at the Cannes Film Festival for Best Actress in Good Intentions, written by Ingmar Bergman). But here she just has nothing special to play, to be honest.
And, returning to the events of the picture, here, in general, it is not very clear why the children did not accept it, did not accept it, and then suddenly they abruptly took it – and accepted it. Because she found the schemes of the old coach, in which she did not understand anything at all, and began to train children according to these schemes?
In comparison with the novel, several rather important storylines are missing here (my wife read the novel). The topic of crime, which was present in full in this town, was almost completely bypassed, and an important character of Sami (Lancelot Ncube) was associated with this crime: in the picture, only once was a glimpse of some friend of Sami, clearly of such a semi-bandit appearance.
Almost completely removed the line of husband Britt-Marie Kent, who in the film came to Borg to take his wife back, and in the book he plays an important role in the story with the construction of a new stadium. Two completely different characters in the book – a vile official from the city administration (Backman has the theme of government officials in almost every book, as parasites on the body of mankind; however, in some ways, of course, he is right) and the arrogant father of the boy from the team – for some reason merged into one, and he has a certain schizophrenia there: the official tries to spoil the team and prevent it from participating in the competition, while his son plays in this team and during the game the official loudly cheers for the team. Well, they showed very schematically how she generally began to deal with football and began to train the team: she didn’t understand it before, but now she understands it.
So what happened as a result? Sucks? No, don’t suck. But this is a kind of “Uwe’s second life” for the poor, as Bublik the cat rightly noted. It seems that certain components of Backman’s prose are present, but it is presented in such a way that it almost does not catch. Everything is somehow schematic and almost soulless. Apparently, this is due to Tuva Novotna’s lack of relevant staging experience. But when you put on a film based on a literary work known and loved by many, you need to be especially careful. If some flaws in a film based on the original script can be forgiven, then in the case when there is a rich literary basis, no, they will not be forgiven.
And so it happened. How warmly the picture of Hannes Holm was received in Sweden, just as coolly they perceived “Britt-Marie Was Here”. And, in fact, a very low rating on IMDB is clearly caused by the disappointment of those who read the novel, because, in my opinion, the picture does not deserve a lower rating of 5.2. Yes, it is rather mediocre and passable, for viewing, in general, it is completely optional, but I cannot say that I regretted that I watched it. More or less watchable, but perhaps more or less: I generally expected that it would be noticeably better. But, alas, what was removed, then removed.
Britt-Marie Was Here / Britt-Marie var här movie review
Director: Tuva Novotny Cast: Pernilla August, Vera Vitali, Lancelot Ncube, Peter Haber, Mahmut Suvaksi, Anders Mossling, Malin Levanon, Olle Sarri, Cecilia Milocco, Stella Oyoko Bengtsson
Melodrama, Sweden, 2019, 96 min.