A Strange Love Affair with Ego

- THE NETHERLANDS / 2015 / English, Dutch / Color / DCP / 91 min

Director, Script: Ester Gould
Photography: Jean Counet
Editing: Katarina Turler
Sound: Rik Meier
Music: Marc Lizier
World Sales: Tondowski Films

The filmmaker has always been fascinated by her older sister Rowan and drawn to her unshakeable self-confidence. However, Rowan’s excessive self-esteem, narcissism, and attachment to her own idealized self-image gradually become destructive. In an attempt to understand her older sister’s overblown sense of self, the director traces the correspondence they have shared over the years. She also turns the camera on three other women who, despite the differences in their age and lifestyles, are also filled with self-confidence. She thrusts her way into their thoughts and reflects on what she finds. A personal essay on the value people of today increasingly place on leading showy lives intended to be envied, this work painstakingly examines the suffering in the gap between these supposedly ideal lives and reality, and the suffocating nature of contemporary social life.

[Director’s Statement] I never set out to make an “ego documentary.” But after my big, self-confident sister Rowan committed suicide in 2007, I felt a strong need to tell a story about self-love and the need to be seen and appreciated. I wanted to understand my own admiration—Rowan was my youth idol—and make a film about the balancing act of ego. How could my sister, who seemed to love herself so much, kill herself?

A Strange Love Affair with Ego began with my own soft spot for people with big egos. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who have impressive and outspoken personalities. This perspective, I figured, could shed a new light on the subject of narcissism, a concept that is so often described as a cultural and societal problem. But for me narcissism isn’t a theoretical problem, it’s a human dynamic that I know so well.

I set out to tell this story as a modern myth, a parable like Everyman. The myth of Narcissus is about the danger of too much self-love because in the end it’s lonely. “Parties won’t cover up the silence” are the last words of my film. It’s a sentence by Virginia Woolf, an author who—like my sister Rowan—felt torn between her hunger for intellectual inspiration and big city life on one hand, and inner peace and a sense of belonging on the other.

The perfect image that I had of my sister is—now I realise—a construction, a stubborn attempt to keep on dreaming. In the same way, the characters that represent my sister in this film are constructing their identities; they are “performing” their lives. My hope is that this film works as a mirror, inviting audiences to reflect on the fact that we are all—more or less—“needy narcissists.” It’s an attempt to understand our fascination for success, fame and the spotlights.

- Ester Gould

Ester Gould was born in Peterculter, Scotland in 1975, and moved to the Netherlands when she was ten. She studied film and journalism in Amsterdam and New York (NYU Tisch School of the Arts) and, after working as a researcher and assistant director for the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Heddy Honigmann, she began directing her own documentaries in 2005. Shorts, series and feature-length films of hers co-produced by Dutch public broadcasters have been shown at film festivals and on television channels around the world. In 2016, Variety named her one of its “Ten European Female Filmmakers to Watch.” Her latest project—the six-part documentary series Debt Society (2016)—was an award-winning television hit and led to public debate about the rising debt problem and Dutch poverty.