Writer/director Alexandra-Therese Keining’s With Every Heartbeat was presented at AFI FEST 2011 as part of the Breakthrough section. Keeping in line with the excellence of Swedish films of the past, and present, Keining presents an intimate portrayal of love being found in the unlikeliest of places and at a time neither person expects–the two people in question just happen to be women, one openly gay and the other engaged to a man. A true triumph for the LGBT cause, the film portrays love as love is in it’s natural form, disregarding much of what could have been a proclamation for equal rights on gender issues that only makes its a stronger piece of filmmaking in the process.
Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez) is visiting her father Lasse whom she has not seen in years for his birthday, and engagement party with his soon-to-wife Elisabeth (Lena Endre)–a woman Mia has never met. Along with her, and with happy news of their own, is her fiance Tim (Joakim Nätterqvist). It is during the next few days that Mia will make an unlikely connection with her soon-to-be stepsister Frida, played by the lovely and intoxicating actress Liv Mjönes. Mia finds herself alone with Frida and Elisabeth at their island home, far from Tim and her father. The sexual attraction between Mia and Frida is nearly instant upon meeting, and only grows stronger as they spend more time around one another. The instant feelings are a bit contrived, but as romantic dramas go they are in-line as things happen quicker in the movies when love is concerned. A weekend tryst together leads Mia and Frida on a journey that tears both of their worlds apart, and the fine performances by each actress greatly enhances the flood of emotions transferred onto the viewer. Mia must come to terms with her relationship with Tim, as Frida must decide whether to salvage her own relationship or leave knowing she may never be with Mia, the woman she has hopelessly fallen in love with.
With Every Heartbeat is an honest love story that plays the emotional strings of a romantic drama, even with two women as the leads. The love scenes between them are just as sensual, directed to perfection by Keining as to not overdramatize the situation or cheapen it with conversations on the ways of lovemaking between a woman and a woman. When Mia must make her choice, whether to leave her boyfriend of seven years for a relationship with Frida that will be a new experience for her, as well as in the public eye as Frida wants to rejoice in their love, not hide it from the world, the film excels in showing the complexity of such choices. It is never a question as to whether Mia is gay, or bi-sexual, as this she can accept about herself. It is more about giving up the life she has made, and the one she is comfortable in, in order to embark on something new and wholly different. This is not to say the topic of Mia being bi-sexual is not addressed, it is, and mostly by her father and stepmother. The conversations they have about the situation between Frida and Mia wholly resemble the real moments families encounter when dealing with a child who has made such a choice in their life–if a choice is really possible that is, a statement made in the film that is wonderfully scripted as there is no choice, and no fault either.
While the film has a bit of a too-neat ending, rolling everything up into the hollywood happy-ever-after blanket, it feels right that it should end that way. With Every Heartbeat is a romantic drama, and one expects the emotions to be strong, the conflicts great, and the ending to be triumphant for love’s sake. With Every Heartbeat manages to excel on every level, while also delivering a strong message about the LGBT community–they live, love, feel, experience, and are just like the heterosexuals of the world, and their representation on film needs not be any different.
More information on the film from AFI FEST: With Every Heartbeat (Kyss Mig)