Love at first sight in the literature of the classical world was understood as a ‘madness from the gods’, used as a form of sickness to either aid or falter the protagonist. There is something innately irrational about love, or perhaps our cultural understanding of it. The 2012 debut of Eirik Svensson is a dissection into the idea of love, love at first sight, and the perhaps toxic concept of ‘the one’. The film proposes to the spectator questions about how far we are willing to go in order to pursue our selfish desires and what sacrifices we make in the process.
We find ourselves in Istanbul, where Kasia (Pamela Tola) has her chance encounter with Jacob (Espen Klouman Høiner) when she is locked out of her flat, and ends up staying at his neighbouring flat for the night. It is here where everything begins; they are both away from home as Kasia is Finnish and Jacob is Norwegian. However, Jacob is leaving in the morning.
The brief encounter is made more potent by the nature of it being unresolved – Kasia awakes to him gone, with so much left unsaid. One could describe Kasia as a hopeless romantic because instead of accepting that moment as a chance encounter she holds onto it in the hopes that it meant more than what was said or done. Her commitment to pursuing this ‘love’ can be seen when, months later, she moves to Oslo. Looking for Jacob, she mistakes Andreas (also Espen Klouman Høiner) for him – and starts a relationship anyway.
This is where the film asks some challenging questions about what it means to love or be in love as, in her endeavours to recreate that moment she shared with Jacob, Kasia is willing to compromise and use his doppelganger as a stand in. She is committing to the love she had before, rather than to him, and the relationship becomes a selfish and self-indulgent fantasy. She is hypnotised by what she felt that night: something strong and true that was cut short and left unfinished. There is something compelling about the interrupted, as it sparks such poetic importance as it leaves. Just like Dido in The Aeneid, Kasia becomes sick with intense irrational love that drives her to make these absurd and selfish choices.
The choice of casting Espen Klouman Høiner as Andreas as well as Jacob is a metaphor for the question of what elements make us fall in love with someone. As shown with Kasia, it is not just appearance: no matter how similar they are or how much she does, there is always something missing. We stumble down the rabbit hole with her as she is bewitched by the potency of that original unresolved encounter, informing the driving force behind her futile attempts to recreate it. That moment of connection was so compelling that Kasia could not let go of the idea of Jacob. She is frozen within that brief fleeting moment. However, she is the product of the culture surrounding the understandings of love and the grand notions attached to it.
There is a deep tragedy in her attempts; she is clinging to a ludicrously hopeful notion that somehow she can force things to work out. Her commitment reveals a darker side to this, as it shows how far a romanticised idea can go. She ultimately sacrifices her own happiness in her commitment to the play she has created, believing in this absurd notion that Jacob would reappear in the form of Andreas. However, she also sacrifices Andreas, the ultimate victim throughout this tangling of red string. The film is a problematic romance, raising questions about human behaviour which are far more complex than they appear on the surface.
Svensson creates an intoxicating experience of a vivid and compelling narrative about a woman so committed to the man she believes is the ‘one’ that she is willing to be with someone who just looks like him. It is uncertain if the film ends on a positive opinion of these grand notions of ‘great’ loves. Rather, it seems to leave the judgement to the spectator.
The film spans Istanbul, Oslo, Helsinki and Berlin to create incredible colour palettes, but they also work as characters in themselves. Symbolically, they represent different chapters in the story, which makes the film even more complicated and enchanting. Must Have Been Love is an enchanting film about the complexities of love, and ourselves.
Image: Teemu rajala via Wikimedia