The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - UNMOORED | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - UNMOORED

Unmoored review
A Swedish TV presenter hides out in rural England after fleeing her husband.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Caroline Ingvarsson

Starring: Mirja Turestedt, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Kris Hitchen, Sven Ahlström, Anna Próchniak

Good storytelling, especially of the cinematic variety, has the ability to make us sympathise with and even root for characters that have committed heinous acts. In Hitchcock's Rope we witness two young men murder their friend and hide his body in a trunk which they then make the centerpiece of a party. We should be screaming at the other characters to open the damning chest but instead we dig our nails in with apprehension every time someone moves near the trunk. Why do we do this? Is it a form of Stockholm Syndrome, that if we spend enough time with a protagonist we'll take their side? Or perhaps it's because we all secretly harbour a fear that some day we might commit a terrible act ourselves.

What if that terrible act is understandable, if not entirely justified? That's the question we find ourselves asking throughout director Caroline Ingvarsson's Unmoored, adapted from Hakan Nesser's novel 'The Living and the Dead in Winsford' by screenwriter Michèle Marshall.

Unmoored review

The terrible act is committed by Maria (Mirja Turestedt), a Swedish TV presenter known for her confrontational onscreen manner. Her public persona is that of a committed feminist. During one of her shows she exposes a husband as a domestic abuser. When she meets a colleague's new younger wife she questions why the woman is happy to be a stay at home wife. In her private life it's a different story. She's under the thumb of her boorish husband Magnus (Thomas W. Gabrielsson), whom she is currently standing by amid an accusation of sexual assault.

When Maria suggests the couple leave Sweden until the scandal dies down, Magnus agrees, but he dismisses her desire to travel to England. Instead, Magnus wants to go to Morocco, with a stop in Poland to visit a friend along the way. While in Poland the couple have an argument, which clearly is just the latest of many. When Magnus storms off down a beach, Maria has a rush of blood to the head and drives away, taking Magnus's dog Caspar with her.

Maria ends up in England, but her paranoia suggests she didn't merely leave her husband stranded. We see her about to google for news of an incident at the Polish beach, but something stops her from hitting the Enter key and revealing the results. At night she thinks she hears noises outside the remote cottage she's rented. While driving she is followed by a white car which she sees several times around the village.

Unmoored review

The film teases out the truth of what happened between Maria and Magnus on the beach in flashbacks that unveil Maria's actions one piece at a time. We also see a past confrontation between Maria and the young woman who accused her husband of rape. It's clear that Maria believed the victim but stood by Magnus regardless.

Maria begins a brief affair with a sensitive local man (Kris Hitchen), a subplot that thankfully just about avoids straying into treacly Nicholas Sparks territory, but for most of the movie Maria is alone with her thoughts, with her paranoia, with her guilt. Turestedt, who looks awfully like the Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, is very good at conveying the forces eating away at her character, forces which we fear will ultimately consume her.

Unmoored review

But why do we fear for Maria, especially when we learn the full details of her actions? Well I guess it's because we all know of examples of men like Magnus who use their power to avoid any consequences for their misdeeds. But many of us have also experienced relationships and friendships that soured to a point where we just needed to walk away from the other party. Too often that's not an option, and too many people remain in miserable couplings because they can't find a way out. We may not condone Maria's particular act, but many viewers will applaud her courage in finally taking some sort of action.

Some aspects of the film don't quite hold up to interrogation, and as a thriller it may have worked better if set in a pre-internet era. In reality, Maria would be easily tracked by the digital trail she leaves by holding onto her phone and that of her husband, and by the IP address from which she sends emails to her husband's worried publisher. Her fake story of continuing on to Morocco with Magnus would easily be disproven by the police by simply checking with the airline. Such details take us out of the film at key points, which is a shame as Unmoored is an otherwise tense and paranoid thriller with a protagonist we can sympathise with if not entirely condone.

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