Actor Tuva Novotny (“Annihilation,” “Eat Pray Love”) follows up her directorial debut “Blind Spot” (Blindson) with her second feature “Britt-Marie Was Here,” going from thriller to heart-warming comedy. “Britt-Marie Was Here” is based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, who also wrote the international bestseller “A Man Called Ove.” Tuva’s adaption reminded me of another film adaption, “The Virgin Suicides” (1999), directed by Sofia Coppola. Like “The Virgin Suicides,” Tuva’s film elevates the material through the lens of the female gaze on the main character, cinematically capturing a loneliness that only could be felt and breathed by a woman. The main character is Britt-Marie, played by the incredible actor Pernilla August.

Pernilla August in “Fanny and Alexander” (1982) and “Star Wars: Episode I – Phantom Menace” (1999)

I was blown away by Pernilla August’s performance in the film, who was previously in Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” (1982) and George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode I – Phantom Menace” (1999) and “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” (2002) as Anakin’s mother. Beyond those films, she has around 75 acting credits, embodying the soul of every character she plays. Watching her on screen play Britt-Marie, I saw a lonely soul in need of human connection.

Pernilla August in “Britt-Marie Was Here” (2019)

Tuva’s intention for Britt-Marie, according to her director statement, is that she wanted to capture Britt-Marie’s story through self-discovery. A part of her journey is coming to terms with her value, and allowing herself to let other people in who see that value. Being a woman, self-discovery is so important, because without knowing ourselves we can get into the trap of letting others define us. What Britt-Marie’s story tells us is that it’s never too late to have the courage to rediscover yourself.

I would personally like to avoid the story of the poor unsolved woman who finally sees the light, changes character, and sails off into the sunset on new adventures. I want us to like Britt-Marie as she is. I want her to learn to like herself. I want a possible redemption to lie in self-acceptance and self-confidence more than in adaptation to the outside world. Important turning points must not be dropped; making the choice to leave her safe life, choosing to enter into her character for the sake of the children and the community of Borg, to finally choose herself.

Tuva Novotny
Pernilla August and Peter Haber in “Britt-Marie Was Here” (2019)

To go through a time of self-discovery, there needs to be catalyst to put discovery into motion. The catalyst to this trajectory is coming face to face with her husband’s (Peter Haber) lover. Britt-Marie receives a call that her husband, Kent, has had a heart attack. When she arrives at the hospital there is confusion as to why she is there because the mistress has been mistaken as the wife. For forty years, Britt-Marie’s life has revolved around her husband by creating and maintaining a home that is conducive to all his needs. When faced with Kent’s infidelity, she snaps, and immediately abandons the life she has led for forty years as a wife to Kent. She needs a clean break, which means she needs a job. Forty years prior, her one job was a waitress, which limits her opportunities. The woman at the employment office offers her the only job that is available for a woman with no job history, and that job is being a “youth worker,” also a football coach, to the children who are part of a youth center in Borg. She takes it even though she knows nothing about the sport or about Borg. With a job opportunity in hand, Britt-Marie goes into the unknown with desperate courage to find meaning to her own existence.

Pernilla August in “Britt-Marie Was Here” (2019)

When Britt-Marie arrives in Borg, the community embraces her. Of course they laugh at her uniqueness in tidying the youth center and her lack of knowledge about football, but they warm up to her quickly, and she warms up to them. Some might complain about the lack of controversy and drama when Britt-Marie first comes to Borg. But then you have to remember, this film isn’t about the transformation of the community, but the transformation of Britt-Marie. The Borg community’s relationship to Britt-Marie made me remember there are people out there that will help you on your journey, if you let them. I’ve found that when I’ve come to places in my life that seem scary, there are helping hands along the way. The people of Borg are the helping hands to Britt-Marie. Two relationships stand out to me: One, Vega. Vega is one of the children on the football team. Her passion is for football, and she sparks the desire for Britt-Marie to find her “football”. And then there is Sven, the local police officer, a man that is attracted to her beauty and her, really her, not the idea of her.

Pernilla August in “Britt-Marie Was Here” (2019)

Through Britt-Marie’s time in Borg, we see her confront her fears by embracing what she cannot control. We see her accept the fact she is placed in Borg for a reason. One reason is to support the community of Borg, but the other reason, which is most important, is Britt-Marie. She learns to choose herself, rather then fit into an expectation of herself. We see snippets of her relationship with her sister as a child throughout the film. As we see them together, she continually recalls that her sister was always the dreamer, her sister was the one who had the imagination. These snippets bring heavier meaning to her transition. Her forward motion, embracing the unknown in her life, and recognizing she is the reason for this journey, opens up the things like dreams and imagination that she projected onto her sister. Now it’s not about her sister’s dreams and imagination, but is about her’s, which leads her on to what is next.

To avoid spoilers, I will not disclose the ending, but know that this film will move you and inspire you to rediscover yourself. Know that you’re never finished. Thank you Tuva for the vision of this film and thank you Pernilla August for your performance. Hope to see these two working together again.

All alone in the world, she actually succeeds. As unique as before, but with a long-awaited self-confidence that we all dream of.

And its core, this is a film about courage.

Tuva Novotny
Director Tuva Novotny and Actor Pernilla August

“Britt-Marie Was Here” plays at select theatres on September 20th. For more details, see link.

Read my piece about my experience with helping hands: The Inside True Story of Woman Following Her Dream

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