Film Review: Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here (Swedish: Britt-Marie var här) is a charming, pleasant Swedish drama film based on Fredrik Backman‘s 2014 novel of the same name, filled with moving and authentic performances throughout its 98-minute runtime.

Dir: Tuva Novotny
Starring: Pernilla August, Peter Haber, Anders Mossling, Malin Levanon, Vera Vitali, Olle Sarri

“How do you live a life?” asks Britt-Marie (Pernilla August) in the film’s opening moments, standing passionless at her home window, routine carved into her every expression and movement. Britt-Marie has been married to the equally bland Kent (Peter Haber) for more than 40 years, and her life is dictated by routine, order, and tidiness.

Their relationship is a thankless one, and this is acutely reflective of Britt-Marie’s existence within both it and herself. One unspectacular day, Britt-Marie is called to the hospital after Kent suffers a heart attack. When she arrives, she discovers Kent is having an affair, accepts this with a masochistic resolve, and moves out to look for work.

Britt-Marie – unemployed for forty years – takes up the only position available; a youth worker in a forgettable, forgotten town where she teaches children to play football (poorly) while learning (wonderfully) how to live again and (awkwardly) love again with sweetheart Sven (Anders Mossling).

The film’s relatively simple, feel-good narrative helps maintain momentum in the story – and its character’s emotional arcs – but this all feels secondary to the many beautiful, tragic moments littered throughout the film’s exceptional dialogue and highlighted by exceptionally underplayed performances.

Anyone familiar with love and heartache will recognise these moments of perseverance that hit deep, and hard; the shame and disgrace of an affair, the hollow emptiness of unspoken sadness, the first night in an unfamiliar bed and surrounded by a single-serving existence, the uncertainty of the next day and the weight that comes with it.

When we are desperate to maintain a sense of perfection and order in our lives, we forget the joy of accepting chaos and pain as part of that rhythm. The energy we pour into this pursuit manifests with an equal sense of fear; the more we commit to perfection, the more we fear moments of imperfection. This thinking makes us hollow, as individuals and in relationships, and we wall ourselves off from each other, and the wider world.

And while these harder, challenging moments bring immense anxiety and displacement, they also reveal a life of pure possibility; an opportunity to discover our place in the world, and a rare chance to rediscover ourselves.

Similar to Backman’s other adapted work, A Man Called Ove, the magic in the film (and story) comes from the relatable simplicity of the situation and the characters. There’s very little action, little exciting ‘entertaining’ drama, and no prize money at stake or life-and-death decisions to make, but the important question is there in the opening moments, one which applies to all of us: How do we live a life?

 In the end, this is what Britt-Marie Was Here brings to the screen. A story that isn’t about winning or changing the world, but simply choosing to not give up. A film about learning to celebrate ourselves, and each other, on a daily basis – even for our failures, our mistakes, and our regrets – and learning to live again, fearlessly and beautifully.

Oxford Lamoureaux