Film Review: ‘Britt-Marie Was Here’

John Thomas

Human weakness in a relationship is like a heavy piece of furniture – it’s easier to clean around it than move it to see the dust underneath. In this Swedish film, it’s not until someone moves the piece that all the dust is revealed.

Britt-Marie (Tuva Novotny) has been married to the same man for 40 years. She launders his clothes, shops for food, cooks his meals, cleans their home with little or no sign of his appreciation. Her husband, Kent (Peter Haber), sometimes leaves home before eating the breakfast she has prepared, then comes home late to nibble at dinner before watching a soccer match on TV. Regardless of all this, she feels her life is okay.

It is not until she is summoned to the hospital, where her husband has been taken for a heart emergency, that she finally sees the “pile of dust” she has long suspected was present in their marriage. The woman cowering in the corner of Kent’s hospital room was thought to be his wife – that is, until Britt-Marie arrives. Kent tries to explain, but Britt-Marie brushes him off, rolls up the shirt he wore that day and stuffs it into her bag to take home to supposedly launder.

Once home, she tosses the shirt aside, empties a stash of cash into her purse, packs a few possessions into a suitcase and walks out the front door – a hotel room will be fine for the night.

The woman at the employment agency the next day smiles kindly to Britt-Marie as she informs her that there are few job openings for a 63-year-old woman whose previous work experience was 40 years ago as a waitress. The only job available is overseeing a pre-teen youth home in Borg. Britt-Marie takes it.

Stepping from the bus in Borg later that day, she heads for the graffiti covered, seemly abandoned youth center. With no other place to stay, she curls up on a musty sofa in the recreation room for the night. Waking to the crash of a broken window, she peers outside to find a rag-tag group of children standing on a dry grassless soccer field.

Britt-Marie knows nothing about coaching soccer – a part of her job description, but she does know organization. Enlisting the team’s help, she begins cleaning, sorting and organizing both the team and the youth center. She eventually gains the support and sympathy of the Borg residents who recognize her struggles. There is one member of the community who does not support her efforts – a representative of the town council who plans to close the center.

The very popular coach who Britt-Marie replaced died suddenly as he was preparing the team for a competition – the same annual competition in which the Borg team has never scored even one goal. The children were hopeful for a change this time, but without a proper coach they feel hopeless. If the team even scored one goal, perhaps the council would keep the center open.

The town decides to help Britt-Marie, even to the point of ordering new tees for the team. Finally the day of the competition arrives and it’s time for Britt-Marie to huddle the team together and give them words of encouragement. The result is still no goals for Borg. With only a few minutes left in the game, Britt-Marie gathers the team together one last time. What could she possibly say that would be a game-changer?

Directed by Tuva Novotny (Credits:  Blindstone,  Dag – TV series) this 97 minute production is a “should see.”


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