At the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I saw Hans Petter Moland’s new film and was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ask him some questions. The Norwegian revenge thriller stars Stellan Skarsgård who is best known in the UK for his roles in films such as Good Will Hunting, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Avengers. ‘In Order of Disappearance’ is released on 12th September 2014.
You are known for your collaborations with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård. What is it about him that makes him so good to work with?
‘Well he’s probably one of the best actors in the world so it’s not terribly hard to go back to him each time. He’s a wonderful actor and I’m sure other directors who’ve worked with him would say the same. He not only gets it but he is really good at contributing to a process so he’s a lot of fun to work with.’
Where did the inspiration come from for In Order of Disappearance?
‘I’m a father of six and of course I am terrified of my children being in dire straits so this is a story I’ve toyed around with for years. I’m being a little bit facetious but what I mean is that the idea is about how we, especially in Norway, think of ourselves as being peacemakers – we award the Nobel Peace Prize each year. It’s about a man who thinks he is not only subscribing to the virtues and ethical codes to society but is recognised for his good work. It looks at what happens to him when he encounters something so animalistic and horrific and loses his sense of humanity in a way. That was the philosophical departure point for the whole project and where the story originates.’
In the EIFF brochure, it is described as ‘Death Wish set in Fargo’. Do you think that is a fair comparison and did these films have any influence on yours?
‘I’ve seen both Death Wish and Fargo and they haven’t gone by unnoticed so yes I guess they have but so have a lot of other films. I think it’s too simplistic to say that just because it’s a revenge story it has much in common with Death Wish or the fact that it is set in snow and has some violence that it has a lot in common with Fargo. That being said, I enjoyed both when I saw them but don’t want to make a ridiculous claim that they’ve made a contribution.
The point is that it is just a likely in this world where there’s so much cross-pollination and influences from other cultures that I’ve seen the same Billy Wilder film as the Coen brothers did. You know I’ve spent the past eleven years or so of my life in the United States and I think it has greatly affected my sense of humour. I lived in New York which was known for having a sort of hardcore black humour at the time and it affected me so much that when I came back to Norway, people thought I had become a bit callous when in fact it’s just the New York survivor humour which in New York isn’t considered callous at all. I guess the point of this long answer is that influences come from a lot of places!’
Trying to find a good balance between violence and humour can be difficult in film. Was this a challenge to pull off or do you find that in comes natural to you as a director?
‘I think the humour part comes to me quite easily. I’m not sure if it’s natural but I tend to see humour in a lot of places, sometimes when other people would think it is inappropriate. Of course not all films have the ambition of being both violent and funny at the same time but in this film we tried not to be restrained or harnessed by any genre. To have suspense and the thriller aspect as well as the tragic moments juxtaposed with humour was one of my ambitions but I didn’t want to compartmentalise. It was one of the experiments of this film.’
From watching the trailer and reading about the film, I can imagine it was very cold on set. Tell us a little about the filmmaking process. What is a long shoot?
‘Well I don’t think it was long enough but I’ve never met a director who said he has too many days to shoot…It was a bit cumbersome to shoot in the snow but at the same time I enjoy it. I enjoy being outside and I enjoy the snow. I like to see my co-workers dressed up in big bulky clothing! That brings out the child in me which is good when making a film. It is always challenging when it is 20-25 below but everyone worked hard and at times when we felt we were roughing it, we thought it was better being out making a film than in some boring office like normal!’
Scandinavian cinema is becoming more accessible in the UK with stand out directors such as Nicolas Winding Refn, Daniel Espinosa, Lars Von Trier and yourself. What do you think has caused this change and where do you see Scandinavian or, in particular Norwegian cinema, going in the future?
‘That is a good question…I think we’re very appreciative of the attention. I’ve been making films for around 25 years and I’ve shot in the UK when making Aberdeen. I think it can be attributed to a couple of factors. One is that we are making films that have the ambition to reach out and communicate with a lot of people. Also, because we are being allowed to create films with good stories, with is in our tradition of filmmaking. Our films can reach greater audiences as long as it has a good story at the bottom of it or a good storytelling impulse. That’s one thing and the other is that of course the world is in many ways shrinking and so I think it’s just as much a debt of gratitude to UK audiences that are willing to shift their gaze and pay attention to something outside their own culture. I am very grateful of the curiosity shown to not just see home-grown cinema but to see foreign films. It is great!’
Finally, I know that you enjoy showcasing your work at the Berlin film festival. Is this your first time at Edinburgh Film Festival and have you enjoyed the experience in Scotland’s capital?
‘Yes I’ve enjoyed being a part of the competition in Berlin three times which is a great honour. It is my second time in Edinburgh. I was here with Aberdeen in 2000 I believe it was and it was good to come back for the festival after being there for two to three months filming. It was terrific to be able to meet and connect with the Scottish audiences. The Edinburgh Film Festival has always been a wonderful experience for me.’