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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 First Feature Competition

Caroline Ingvarsson • Director of Unmoored

“When you are constantly lying to yourself, you can’t be free”


- It’s time for a reckoning in this feature debut, a drama about a woman who finally confronts her husband

Caroline Ingvarsson • Director of Unmoored

Maria (Mirja Turestedt) is a successful TV personality. She is also lying to herself – especially about her husband. When another woman accuses him of sexual abuse, she can’t wrap her head around it. But as she keeps on driving, her head starts to clear. We chatted to director Caroline Ingvarsson about Unmoored [+see also:
film review
interview: Caroline Ingvarsson
film profile
, which screened in Tallinn Black Nights’ First Feature Competition.

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Cineuropa: When you were showing the first scenes from Unmoored at Haugesund, I remember this atmosphere of fear expressed through sound or empty landscapes. You worry, but you don’t know why.
Caroline Ingvarsson:
It was about figuring out how we could “inflate” the sense of threat without showing anything concrete. How do we make nature the villain? What I loved about the script and the book was that for the most part, it’s all in her head. It’s her mind telling her things are worse than they are. Then I also wanted to play with her surroundings because she is alienated in that new place, but she also finds herself there.

She literally lets her hair down and immediately looks freer. Such little details are helpful because she doesn’t spell everything out.
I am so glad you noticed that. Maria doesn’t say much, but there are certain moments where you get to see who she is, like when someone asks about her TV show. You can see this glimmer of pride and happiness. She has been in denial for so long, trying to ignore her anger towards her husband. But when she finally explodes, you also start to care for her more.

Her prison isn’t obvious. In one scene, there is this interesting conversation about what it means to be a free woman. She seems independent, but it’s not that easy.
With Michèle Marshall, who wrote the script, we fell in love with how flawed and complex Maria is. It makes her human – we all have these double standards, one way or another. Her interactions with different women showcase her strong beliefs, but also the lies. She seems like this strong feminist who is quick to judge others, but when she finally starts looking inwards, the reality of her situation dawns on her. It was a fascinating character study.

You give her a little romantic adventure, too. Up to that point, every relationship in the film is doomed, violent. Is that why you wanted to introduce something better?
With this man, played by Kris Hitchen, they just connect. They both have baggage and an understanding of this “don’t ask” approach. They have a past. He lost his wife; she is going through this whole situation. Their suffering allows for a romantic connection.

Is it hard when loneliness is such a big part of the story? One assumes it’s easier to film dialogues.
That was probably the hardest part: how do we make it interesting? In the book, you get to hear her thoughts. Here, we also had to enter her mind somehow, but without explaining everything. That’s why nature plays such a big part. It reflects her state because there is nobody else around. Have you seen Take Shelter? That was one of my references for showing the kind of threat that gradually becomes more and more imminent.

Since #MeToo, people have started to pay attention to the wives and partners as well, people who were close but didn’t know what was going on or chose not to see it. Very often, it’s assumed that they are complicit. They are being dragged down with their partners.
The film starts with us assuming that she supports him. Later, it turns into an itch that she keeps on scratching – she is asking more questions. She starts to realise he might be lying and that she was never in control in this relationship. She is not in control of her own life. He has always been with other women, but this time, it’s a step too far – it was without consent. What’s so amazing, however, is that all of the women who worked on the film have the most supportive husbands and partners. We don’t want to punish all men; it’s more about the lies we tell ourselves and how far we are willing to go to protect that illusion. When you are constantly lying to yourself, you can’t be free.

You also show, and this is scary, that you never fully know the person you are with. Even if you have been married for 27 years.
It’s petrifying, this realisation that he might have done it. I wanted to show this anxiety, and luckily, our lead actress is a force to be reckoned with. She is extremely talented, and there was no holding back. Mirja is Sweden’s hidden gem – this is her first lead role!

We have been seeing stories about women reclaiming their freedom, but yours is a darker take. If you wait for so long, it’s going to cost you.
That’s what fascinated me: it’s not that easy. She has lost everything, but she has regained her freedom. That is beautiful in itself. But saying she will now live happily ever after wouldn’t be realistic, and it certainly wouldn’t be relatable. It’s just the beginning of a long journey.

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