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The Sociopolitical Reawakening of Swedish Cinema (Full Version)

Swedish films thrived in 2012, taking 22% of the local box office even as Hollywood blockbusters overwhelmed cinemas in neighboring countries. The stunning popularity of homegrown works was aided by surprise hits such as Kristina Lindström and Maud Nycander’s Palme, which is the best-attended Swedish documentary in almost 25 years. Meanwhile, Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die and Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl rode off with the lion’s share of the Swedish national film prize, the Guldbagge, having received four awards each. As such, HKIFF’s Swedish Sextet section is a timely look at contemporary Swedish cinema. With the support of the Consulate General of Sweden, three guests – Eat Sleep Die director Gabriela Pichler, Palme’s co-director Maud Nycander and Call Girl producer Mimmi Spång – are attending HKIFF this year, accompanied by Swedish Institute’s Lars Hedenstedt. Raymond Phathanavirangoon speak to them to get some insight into their works, and how the films seem to share a certain sociopolitical awareness:

In all three of your films, you tackle social and political issues. Is this a trend in recent Swedish films?
Nycander: The one thing I see in common with our film and films such as Call Girl is that there is some loss of innocence in Sweden right now. Sweden has always been a state which took care of its citizens – you pay a lot of taxes, but you always had security so that even if something happened, you could survive. In the last couple of decades, we can see the gap between the rich and the poor increasing. And in the last election there was the populist right-wing party which came into parliament, and that was also a big shock for Swedes – we always thought that this was something that happened in other countries, and not in ours. So maybe there is an interest in looking at our society, which is changing.

Is there a reason why you feel that this is the right time to make a film about assassinated prime minister Olof Palme? Does it somehow reflect the present situation in the country?
Nycander: It’s been a generation since he was assassinated. I think you need some time – like 25, 30 years – to look back on the events with fresh eyes. There had been so many TV programmes about the murder and the investigations. But the new generation – they only know that there was this guy who was shot long ago, but they don’t know who he was and what he stood for. So for us it’s very important for people who hadn’t grown up during that period to have this knowledge and to learn from it.

Does it somehow serve as a warning for the younger generation to not be complacent, and that this kind of violence could happen again?
Nycander: I think we know that these things can happen. In a good society, you can’t take things for granted. You have to work for our freedom and our society. We used to have day care, good hospitals… But suddenly it’s not like that anymore. So you have to fight for the society that you once grew up with.

Regarding Call Girl, there was a recent controversy over a complaint filed against the film. Does this signify in some ways that certain political subjects are still sensitive in Sweden?
Spång: Actually the complaint was about one of the characters in our film – one of the politicians – who somehow looked like Olof Palme. But that was a coincidence, and we’ve always maintained that our work is fiction. That character only appeared very briefly in the film anyways. And after the complaint from Palme’s family, he has already been edited out. So it wasn’t really a political issue.

But the political scandal about underaged girls used as prostitutes by politicians was real?
Spång: Yes, the case back in the 1970s still remains unsolved.

How did the whole project come about?
Spång: The project came to me because Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten, the scriptwriter, had this project. And she knew the director Mikael Marcimain from before and loved his work. Mikael and myself were also working on other projects, so he approached me with Call Girl. At the time it was just a draft or a treatment, but we really, really loved the idea from the beginning and so we started working on it together.

As for your film Eat Sleep Die, you obviously tackle very recent social issues such as immigration and joblessness. Why these topics?
Pichler: Well, I myself was raised in between three different cultures. My father was born Bosnia, my mother was from Austria, and I was born in Sweden. I am the generation of new Swedes that are very mixed culturally but identify ourselves as Swedes. So that was one topic I wanted to discuss. The other one is the economic crisis in Europe – it even affected Sweden. Sweden always viewed itself as the world’s best country – we had it all, and we wouldn’t be affected economically. But in the end people were let go from factories and lost their jobs. All these anonymous thousands of people – a hundred here, a thousand there; some from small villages, others from cities. I wanted to find these people and tell a story about them. What happens when you lose your job after 30 years at the same factory, always gluing one bit to another? Or what happens when your pride in your work is gone? So that was very important for me.

Do you plan on continuing to make films with social awareness in them?
Pichler: I like reflecting upon the society that I live in as well as my personality in my films. I think I will always make films which mirror my society. Is this kind of social awareness what Swedish cinema is going towards lately? Pichler: I don’t know, actually. When I started making films, I wanted to do the opposite of what was made in Sweden at the time, and they were usually films about family relations, love or police and criminals. So my films were a reaction against that. In documentaries there have always been discussions about social issues, but in fiction film, not so much. But as you said, there is a tendency towards more reflection nowadays.
On a more fun note, Palme’s co-director Maud Nycander revealed that the film’s music was composed by ABBA’s Benny Andersson. Andersson was once asked in an interview if he had been star-struck before. After some thought, he answered, “Yes, once, when I met Olof Palme.” He was asked if he would contribute to this documentary, and he agreed.

Eat Sleep Die director Gabriela Pichler also shared how her film took a long time to finance, partly because there was no script in the beginning. She joked that she made it like Wong Kar Wai, starting with just the cast and no script. She began by interviewing interesting, real people who had interesting relationships to the story about immigration and joblessness.

Left to right: Palme’s co-director Maud Nycander, Swedish Institute’s Lars Hedenstedt, Eat Sleep Die director Gabriela Pichler, Call Girl producer Mimmi Spang.