Two men are seated next to each other in a dark room. They are talking about their lives, while looking at old slides.
Their conversation makes up the entire one hour documentary called “Ångrarna” (“The Regretters”) made by Marcus Lindeen, a film which won the Guldbagge (the Swedish equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Documentary as well as the prestigious Prix Europa for Best TV Documentary last year.
“It seems to me we are all allowed one big life-changing decision,” says director Marcus Lindeen about what propelled him to make this film. “But what if one change isn’t enough? And what if we regret that one decision? Are we not allowed to change again?”
“The Regretters” is a film about something extreme that oddly strikes a universal cord within us all. The two men in that room—Mikael and Orlando—both had a sex change, which they now regret. Hardly a matter most of us can relate to, but as the film progresses, the theme transforms into problems we all wrestle with: age-old issues like, Isn’t there supposed to be more to life? Who am I really?
Marcus Lindeen will soon show “The Regretters” in New York, at MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) and Columbia University, and I spoke to him as he was getting ready to leave Sweden.
“I think we all have those ‘what ifs’ in life,” he says. “What if I had stayed with my first love, what if I had picked another career, you know? That’s one part that we all can recognize ourselves in.”
Lindeen, originally a journalist, was host of a radio program in Sweden called Flipper when he first met and interviewed Mikael in a show about regrets.
“I thought for sure Mikael was the only person who’d ever regretted such a thing as a sex change,” Lindeen continues, “but after the show had aired, Orlando called me. He had listened to it, and he had a similar story. I think I knew right away then that I wanted to make a film.”
But before the film came the play. Mikael was reluctant to show his face on camera, so Lindeen taped a conversation between the men, transcribed it, and had others act it. The result was a successful play that ran at Stockholm’s Stadsteater. The success and the careful way with which Lindeen handled the material probably triggered Mikael to agree to be seen on camera. Thus, finally the film “The Regretters” came to be.
The men are very different from each other. Can you talk a little bit about that?
“Well, Mikael is very bitter,” explains Lindeen. “For him, it’s very important to be very much a man. For Orlando it transcends all of that. Today he doesn’t view himself as either man or woman. He is who he is, and his ideas are more sympathetic that way. He was one of the first people in Sweden to go through a sex change in the 1960s, at a time where probably doctors were curious and very eager to jump the gun. He was told by a doctor not to talk about his sex change, and he married a man shortly after it—a marriage that lasted eleven years. He had to keep this terrible secret from his husband, he had to sneak up in the middle of the night and shave, things like that. When eventually his husband did find out, he nearly killed Orlando.”
“They both find out pretty quickly that the sex change wasn’t what it was all about. It didn’t provide them with an answer. One of them says in the film: ‘You change sex as a means of escaping an unpleasant situation. To become a new person. Life will be better.’ And Mikael talks about seeing the bandages fall off after the operation, and his first thought is: ‘What the hell have I done?’"
What have Mikael and Orlando taught you?
“They taught me that we may think we relieve ourselves of a burden, when we come out as gay for instance, when in reality we really just fence ourselves in even more. We say ‘This is who I am’ but maybe we’re more than that? I am also skeptical of the idea of an authentic self. It’s a metaphor that can be treacherous, I think. What if there is no authentic self to discover? Or what if we have more than one authentic self? Then what? I believe we have to find a way to reconcile ourselves with our decisions and allow ourselves and others the possibility to make several decisions in life—not just one. Perhaps we can change the dramaturgy of life a bit, maybe it doesn’t have to be so linear. It’s not always that you have an unhappy character who makes a change and becomes happy. And of course getting to know Mikael and Orlando has made me very afraid of regretting things later on in life.”
by Eva Stenskär
If you’re in New York, don’t miss “The Regretters.”
It's showing at Deutsches Haus (Columbia University), 420 West 116th Street, New York, NY, on Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. The admission is free and Marcus Lindeen will be there to talk about his film and lead a Q and A session after the screening. For more information call: (212) 854-4015 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
You might also have time to see Marcus Lindeen and his film at MoMA on February 27, at 4:30 p.m. at Theater 1 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater). For more information: