A forensic look at the end of a marriage intercut with interludes from the animal kingdom. Diorama is well-acted and thoughtful but needs a little more fun.
This review of the Netflix film Diorama (2022) does not contain spoilers.
Writer and director Tuva Novotny brings us her third directorial effort after Blidsone and Britt-Marie Was Here and, as with her earlier films, Diorama focuses on how a life-changing, but mundane event can transform people and their perspectives.
Bjorn and Frida are a reasonably normal married couple. We first meet them when they are young and in the early stages of romance, they are carefree and in love. We then catch up with them as a married couple some years later. Spontaneous lovemaking has made way for a highly structured and regimented life, where both parties seem to be going through the motions.
As Frida herself at one stage describes, their life is simply “work, kids, kids, work”. Aware of how stale their marriage has become, Frida wants to do something to shake it up, suggesting a range of solutions to Bjorn that include marriage counseling, a break, or even a threesome. He dismisses all of them, preferring to sink into denial. Inevitably, their marriage fails and the rest of the film deals with how they navigate their divorce.
Unusually, Novotny interrupts the drama with regular interludes that discuss the mating habits of various other mammals. With these, she is exploring the idea of monogamy and how central it is to human happiness. Is it a requirement for us? Or simply a consequence of social conditioning? Ultimately, the film concludes it’s the latter and much of the film is organized in service of this idea.
These asides are well directed and entertaining enough as standalone sequences, but very often disrupt the flow, taking the viewer out of the film. It is at times disorientating and a little uneven. Some of them work well to complement the central narrative and others are a little too on the nose. I think the film would have been stronger with just two or three of these (perhaps bookending the main narrative).
The central pair are well played by David Cencik and Pia Tjelta who bring humanity and realism to their characters. You do believe that these people who were once so happy are now completely miserable with each other. You believe entirely in the pain that they both seem to be feeling at the hands of the other and you do, ultimately, root for them to be happy again, despite everything.
It is perhaps a shame that these characters are drawn so close to conventional gender roles, with Bjorn emotionally remote and unable to engage with his wife’s feelings, oblivious to the uneven share of domestic labor in his household. Frida meanwhile is tightly wound, too preoccupied with the practicalities of everyday life to indulge in a little spontaneity, routinely belittling her husband’s well-meaning attempts to give her a break. That being said, these roles feel conventional, because, for many, they do reflect the reality of married life.
Diorama, much like its title implies, takes a close, hard look at the disintegration of a marriage. As a result, it’s an uncomfortable watch at times, with viewers invited to see both parties at their respective worst. A few more scenes reminding us what Frida and Bjorn had when they were happy might have helped us connect more deeply with what they seem to be throwing away and allowed us to root for them both a little more.
That being said, the first thing I did at the end of my viewing of Diorama was run downstairs, kiss my wife, make her a cup of tea, and volunteer to clean the kitchen.
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