"Nowadays, men are experiencing more of a clash"
by Thomas Humphrey
- CANNES 2015: One of the stars of this year’s Directors’ Fortnight, Magnus von Horn discusses The Here After, his depiction of family life on a knife's edge
Originally born and raised in Sweden, Magnus von Horn has since moved to Poland, where he has been adopted as one of their future hopes. With The Here After [+see also:
interview: Magnus von Horn
film profile], he has remained faithful to his roots, but he has also clearly learnt from the accomplished films coming out of Poland today. Matching formal minimalism with emotional repression, this first feature – presented in the Directors’ Fortnight at the 68th Cannes Film Festival – shows considerable promise.
Cineuropa: It seems like your film is constantly fuelled by aggression, either physical or passive-aggressive. Does that reflect the way you see masculinity? Or humanity?
Magnus von Horn: It has a lot to do with masculinity, unfortunately, but that's unavoidable. I mean, now we're generalising, I want to make that clear. But more often than not, men are disconnected from their emotions, and that happens more among men than with women, I believe. I mean, of course you find emotional disconnection with women, too, but it's not as common.
Although the aggressions in my film aren't typical of gangs or the army, or that kind of thing. It's not that kind of testosterone-filled peer pressure. It's more, like you say, this passive-aggressive behaviour. I think that has to do with the fact that for generations, the world has been ruled by men. Created for men, by men. Either to expand territories or businesses or whatever. So in order to do that, men have had to switch off their emotions and make decisions based on rational thinking. That required them to step outside themselves and become a shadow of themselves.
Do you think this detachment you're describing is particularly a northern European problem?
I don't think men would necessarily be less detached elsewhere; it's more the way they show it. It's like that in Poland, for example. I don't live in Sweden, because I feel this kind of "putting a lid on things" is very typical there. I also have this. I'm conscious of being a very emotionally blocked guy. I make films so that I can express myself through other things.
But I think men are just as detached elsewhere; it's just expressed differently. That's why the characters in this film are very Swedish, and that shapes the form of the film. But you could tell the same story in Italy or Iran or wherever. It would just look different, because it's a different culture.
Does The Here After suggest that this male behaviour is now becoming problematic?
Well yes, now the world's changing in a different direction. It's starting to look more inwards. It's more important to have a kind of personal harmony, a good life, to feel good about yourself. You have to ask yourself all the time whether you're in the right, loving relationship. So I think nowadays, men are experiencing more of a clash, and it's difficult for them.
I think a lot of aggressions can come from men's vulnerability, and the fact that they now have to deal with being emotionally exposed. I believe that's the core problem of many of my characters. To me, it's even one of the reasons why John kills. It's also one of the reasons why his father has been unable to admit to himself that there is a problem, and that he doesn't love his son any more.
Were you also exploring how much society is to blame for the formation of characters like John?
Society is definitely part of the problem in my film. I mean, John is a product of his father, his friends and school. So the problem this society has is that they have this guilt. John is not an isolated person who has just murdered someone; he has co-existed in their society. So for me, the reason why he is treated the way he is, is because their hands are not clean, and admitting that would mean taking a blame that they're not willing to accept.
On the other hand, I don't want to point the finger at society, because in my mind, I can defend any character in my film. I see what they're doing as a kind of human reaction. It's understandable. The question I wanted the audience to ask themselves is: who are they in society? If your friend committed a murder and then came back, where would you stand? I wish I could say for certain that I would be the "good guy", but we never know. So the interesting question is which one of the characters are you? Particularly during that scene in the principal's room. Who in that room are you?