Citizen of Dalecarlia
by Annika Pham
- One of the 'new faces of Swedish cinema', Maria Blom tells Cineuropa about her first experience behind the camera and her passion for actors
Cineuropa: Tell me about yourself: how Maria Blom stage director became Maria Blom filmmaker, and in particular your meeting with producer Lars Jönsson (Memfis Film & TV).
Maria Blom: The first meeting I had with Lars took place five years ago. At the time I was fully-booked at the theatre. I wanted to make my debut in film, but didn’t want to rush into it. I had already had film offers because some of my plays had attracted big audiences. But Lars offered me to make a test film and not to show it to anyone. I liked the idea, the fact that he was prepared to take it slowly with me and his personal style so I agreed.
You had already written the play Dalecarlians and showed it on stage. Why did you choose it for your first feature film?
Already when I was writing Dalecarlians [+see also:
interview: Maria Blom
film profile] for the stage, I thought it would have suited a film adaptation. I really liked the characters from different age groups and wanted to spend more time with them. Plus it was set in Dalecarlia where my father was born, and I loved the colors of the landscape and the dialect. I actually moved there two years ago from Stockholm.
Was it important for you to surround yourself with a very experience crew, for instance one of the editors Michal Leszczylowski (who previously worked with Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovski among others) and the DoP Peter Mokrosinski, one of the most popular in Sweden?
Yes it was. And that’s also one of the reasons why I accepted to work with Lars Jönsson, considering his impressive background (he launched Lukas Moodysson and Josef Fares). With him on board, Peter Mokrosinski and the rest of the crew, I wasn’t nervous and always felt in secure hands. I thought they would tell me when I was doing something that wasn’t right. Lars for instance looked at the takes every day and only told me twice that perhaps I should shoot again.
The collaboration with the Dop Peter was very exciting for me and he himself said that working on Dalecarlians had been one of the most enjoyable things he had ever done.
What about the cast. How did you choose the actors and actresses?
I had seen Kajsa Ernst (who plays the eldest sister Eivor) in a small play when writing the script for the stage a year earlier, and really liked her.
Regarding Sofia Helin (Mia, the lead actress), we had gone to a Drama school together in 2001 and had already worked together on some of my plays. I was looking for people who would be open minded, not egocentric, basically nice people in private who would be great to work with.
My idea of working with actors is to cast them the opposite to what they are in reality. I like challenges. I do not work with a storyboard. I improvise with actors during rehearsals, then ask the Dop to shoot the way I want the scene to be. So I want the actors to be the characters, nothing more. Certainly not the actors they are in real life.
What kind of stories do you like to tell?
First of all, the audience is very important to me. When I write, I have specific people in mind and try to imagine what stories they would like to hear or see. A recurrent theme could be the idea of being nice to each other and not being judgmental something I am in reality!
My stories are always character-driven. I create around them and try to find an environment in which they will evolve.
The family drama and oppressive stage-like atmosphere reminded me of Ingmar Bergman’s films. Was he of any influence to you?
Ingmar Bergman is completely from another generation and I didn’t really know about him when I was younger. I felt I was not in the same cultural league as I was an outsider in many ways.
Generally speaking, I don’t think I have particular influences. I just take atmospheres from films or productions I like. In terms of other directors, I like for example Tim Burton or Cameron Crowe, directors who dare being sentimental. But the way I work with actors is very similar to Mike Leigh’s technique. He improvises the background of the characters with the actors and just decides to make them more realistic or more sensitive when he shoots.
As a director, what do you find more fulfilling: making a play or a film?
With a film, you really work hard for a short period of time, with a lot of people, so there is a very high tempo. You always have to step forward, which is also an attitude in life that I like. If people disagree with you, you have to confront them, and again I like that. Filming outside, in the real world was also really fantastic, because of your direct contact with nature as well as with the people who live in the area where you shoot.
With a play, I love being able to take all the decisions, being a real boss. I take no suggestions from others and want to keep it that way.
How do you feel about the fact that your first feature film is a huge hit in Sweden with almost 800,000 tickets sold since last December?
It’s fantastic. I’m glad people thought that my first film was good, but I’ll continue to improve working with images, and the fifth film will perhaps be the one I’m really pleased with.
Also, contrary to many filmmakers who have problems working with actors when they make their feature film debut, this is not my case because I’ve worked with actors before, so I’m not a beginner in that sense.
Any other feature film project you’re working on?
I will now take half a year off and relax at home. Then in the autumn, I’ll start writing another original story for Lars Jönsson.
Maria Blom was born in 1971. When she wasn’t accepted to hair dresser’s school she instead attended drama classes at Södra Latin High School, and since then she’s been involved in theatre. But it was at Backstage/Stockholm City Theatre, with critically acclaimed plays like Sårskorpor and Rabarbers, that Maria Blom reached a wider, not necessarily theatre-savvy, audience. Her first collaboration with Memfis resulted in the pilot film Fishy, a relationship drama set in the Stockholm suburb of Fisksätra. Maria Blom now lives in Dalecarlia, since two years back.