kyss mig (with every heartbeat)
Written and Directed: Alexandra-Therese Keining
When watching Kyss Mig, it's easy to compare it with Imagine Me & You, the somewhat undeserving lesbian classic that is carried along by the pure charisma of its leads. Kyss Mig has that same sense of being carried along through a sheer charismatic presence, but feels deeper somehow, richer, and more satisfying.
The storylines do have similarities: a soon-to-be happily married woman meets another woman she feels instantly attracted to and has to re-evaluate her life, which involves having to break the heart of a really lovely guy who doesn't deserve to be treated badly. The films both also examine familes and how they interact with and around the couple, and show both the limitations and strengths of parents and siblings.
That's really the end of any sensible comparisons though. The British film is a full-on fluffy, studio romcom, while this indie, Swedish piece is quieter, more introspective. Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez) comes home to celebrate her father's 60th birthday and engagement, and meets for the first time her stepmother-to-be's daughter, the luminous Frida (Liv Mjönes). Mia herself has just gotten engaged to Tim (Joakim Nätterqvist) and you can see the physical discomfort she feels around Frida, so much so that at first it doesn't feel like attraction, but almost a palpable dislike.
Circumstances force the two women together and they give in to their attraction, which begins a chain of events that unravels both their lives. Mia must reconcile her love for Frida with her fear of social judgement and her engagement to Tim, a good man who adores her. Frida must cope with hurting her live-in partner, as well as grappling with real, consuming love for the first time in her life. As they begin to reveal themselves to each other and to their families, it stretches Mia's already-shaky relationship with her father almost to breaking point.
This isn't a romcom. It's not playing for laughs. It's a family drama with moments of humour and good sex thrown in to build character, plot and a strong sense of place. The leads are excellent with great chemistry and they are ably supported by the rest of the small main cast. Liv Mjönes deserves special mention, her Frida is both a force to be reckoned with and incredibly fragile underneath, and she hits both sides of that dichotomy as well as the sometimes clunky script allows (though there were times I did not trust the English translation on the version I saw). Frida truly cares about people, and while Mia seems to selfishly suffer more for her own sake, Frida seems to suffer more for others.
My quibbles with the film are the beginning and the ending. They both move too fast - the supposed sexual tension between the two women still feels like they dislike each other right up until their first kiss, and then towards the end Mia seems, after much heartache, to find it just that little bit easy to race headlong into her new life. I'm not opposed to happy endings (far from it!) but the ending is the only piece of the film that does feel like a romcom - fluffy music, running through airports, its all there.
Now that I've brought up the music, it might just have been me, but the score felt all wrong and intrusive throughout. It was so oddly mournful and creepy, like any second now we would veer into scandi-noir and find a body on a bridge. A little more lightness would have helped. The occasional pop songs that crept in were just so out of place and should have been left out. Other than this glitch, the production was first rate. The cinematography was gorgeous, the lighting brilliant even indoors, the acting superb - this was no ordinary indie lesbian feature on a shoestring. This was an incredibly well-made piece of cinema.
Although I enjoyed it immensely, the second viewing just as much as the first, I'm not going to pretend there's anything ground breaking here. In the end a little more originality would have helped, but this film treats its subject matter carefully and maturely, with obvious love. It continues the very good opinion I have of Scandinavian TV and film generally in the past few years, and is the kind of film for people who like a little more substance with their love stories, but still like a bit of hot sex thrown in.
Note: The English title for the film "With Every Heartbeat" annoyingly takes that title from one of the bad pop songs I refer to above that appears in the end credits - much like what happened with "Fucking Amål" way back when. Then again, a direct translation into "Kiss Me" sounds almost as bad, so not really much for the Marketing people to work with there...