With lockdown restricting my own methods of being creative, I have been turning my attention to watching and championing the work of others recently, and this powerful short from Swedish filmmaker Jimmy Olsson is the latest in a growing list of short independent films that I felt compelled to write about.
The film, titled ‘Alive‘, tells the story of a disabled woman named Victoria (Eva Johansson), and her carer, Ida (Madeleine Martins), as they practice rehabilitation therapy in attempts to improve her condition, albeit somewhat reluctantly on Victoria’s part. The story here focuses on a very specific debilitating illness, with Victoria suffering from brain weariness and Aphasia. It’s a condition which a lot of people may not know much about, which allows for a rather eye-opening experience for the audience. I asked Jimmy if there was a reason he chose to depict this particular condition in the film.
“Myself and Eva discussed her character quite thoroughly during rehearsals and she studied a lot of videos and read about different disabilities, and we concluded that the character had suffered an accident, rather than being born with a disability. We thought it would be more interesting to have a character who had a life before, and a very new life after this accident. Brain weariness and Aphasia affects the brain and speech, which is exacerbated when the sufferer is under stress or frustrated in some way, which really highlights the impact this condition has on someone’s life, and we felt this was an important angle to take when developing the character and the story.”
It is the performance of Eva Johansson which really struck a chord with myself, and I’m sure will do with other viewers too. You can feel every ounce of pain and contempt within her, but there is also a certain endearing charm to her character too and a vitality which raises its head every so often. It is moments like this which stir the emotions the most, and like Victoria most likely does, we feel great sorrow about the life that was lost to the accident, and the situation Victoria now finds herself in. What was most fascinating about this performance though, is the fact that actress Eva Johansson is actually able-bodied and healthy, which got me thinking about the debate that these kind of characters should be represented by genuine sufferers of said conditions, and I put this idea to Jimmy, too, and I think he makes a valid point.
“I completely understand if there are people who think that this was a terrible idea, but the thing is that I did actually audition a few actors who are disabled and I didn’t find a good match. In Stockholm, we don’t have that many professional actors who are disabled, and I always prefer to hire the best actor for the job. If an actor has the right tools to treat the words of the script right, that, to me, is better than having an average actor who may tick a box in terms of the physical implications.”
Now, the film so far probably sounds like quite a harrowing and difficult watch, but that is far from the case. In truth, the tone of the film is pretty uplifting, and at times comedic, too, as Ida encourages Victoria to experiment with online dating app Tinder. With a twenty-three minute runtime, this is a little longer than your average short, but never feels it. Massive credit needs to go to the director here, and the cast, too, in turning a sombre topic into such an enjoyable film, whilst carefully broaching such a delicate subject matter. With that said, the film does dabble in some rather dark moments, and actually instils some real moments of tension and fear in the viewer as to how certain situations will play out. I was very curious as to Jimmy and his team’s creative choices to take the film in this direction.
“I wanted to make a film that subverts our own prejudice we as an audience have. I wanted Madeleine Martins’ character, Ida, to represent the audience, you could say, and the tension in the film is a way of playing around with the idea that able-bodied people can sometimes think they know best, when in actual fact, just because you are disabled doesn’t mean you can’t take care of yourself, or know whats best for you.”
This intriguing idea is something which shines through in this film exceptionally well, so much so that myself and my partner had a good discussion about disabilities, the quality of life debate and even dating in general after watching the film. It’s no mean feat to juggle such thought-provoking, poignant themes, and juxtapose these against the backdrop of comedy and positivity, but Olsson has managed to craft a simultaneously tender and entertaining film, which excels in both the narrative, and technical arena of filmmaking. With ‘Alive’ out on the festival circuit currently, it may be a while before it can reach a wider audience, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
Before I let Jimmy go, though, I had just one more thing on my mind – had he ever been on a Tinder date before? Or any kind of online dating site? I needed at least one embarrassing story to hold against him, right?
“I’ve been married for almost 10 years now, and I have never used Tinder, but I did some online ”dating” in the late 90s and early 00s, before I met my wife. That was kind of wild and weird in the olden days, long before the dating sites we have now. It was so sterile and immature. It was like: “Hi”, and then a no-nonsense reply of ”ASL?” (age, sex, location). Perhaps it’s like that now as well, I don’t know, but you never got to really know anyone in the early years of the internet.”