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"Light doesn’t have to mean superficial"

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Rune Denstad Langlo • Director


- Cineuropa caught up with Norwegian director Rune Denstad Langlo to talk about his new film, Welcome to Norway, which had its world premiere at Göteborg

Rune Denstad Langlo  • Director

It was at the Göteborg Film Festival, one of the biggest film festivals in Scandinavia, that Welcome to Norway [+see also:
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, the third feature film by Norwegian director Rune Denstad Langlo, a dramatic comedy made on an altogether modest budget (just under €2 million) by Sigve Endresen from production company Motlys, had its world premiere. The film was one of eight films chosen for the official selection, all of the directors of whom were of course keen to take home the Dragon Award, which comes with the tidy sum of one million Swedish krona in prize money. This year’s 39th edition is also paying tribute to Italian film, as well as Nollywood film from Nigeria.

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Cineuropa: Primus is the main character in your film.
Rune Denstad Langlo:
 Yes, he’s the owner of a hotel in the Norwegian mountains, which he wants to save from bankruptcy by turning into a reception centre for refugees. It’s the lure of money that drives this dynamic, entrepreneurial man whose previous projects have all failed. But living with fifty or so people of very different origin is no mean feat, especially when you’re clearly a racist. Anders Baasmo Christiansen who plays Primus actively contributed to shaping the character, which was written especially for him.

There are a lot of people who gravitate towards him.
Yes definitely, there’s his wife, Hanni, played by Henriette Steenstrup, and his daughter, both of whom are very important to him, as he has a limited social life. As well as the migrants, Primus is brought face to face with several authorities and their representatives such as police, immigration services, etc, although he ignores all, or nearly all, the functional and dysfunctional elements of the system. I’m not undervaluing the sterling work of the many people who are devoted to helping refugees, but I can also see that some people have made a profit off the short-fallings of a system that is benevolent but not always effective. The conflict, friction and ridiculous situations he finds himself in cause Primus stress and frustration and give him comical buoyancy. What usually makes us laugh is characters at odds with one another, the consequences of differences, misunderstandings, and there’s plenty of this in my film, as we sometimes experienced it on the shoot. I mean, just picture it: a hotel that isn’t very spacious, twenty different nationalities and eight languages.

A mini Tower of Babel...
Not far off, and that’s without considering the somewhat chaotic start we got off to and the deadlines that had to be respected. Moreover, a lot of the actors spoke French, which I don’t really understand, for example Olivier Mukata who plays Abedi the Congolese migrant, Slimane Dazi who plays Zoran and also featured in A prophet [+see also:
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by Jacques Audiard, Lebanese actressl Elisa Sayegh, and Philip Øgaard the director of photography, among others. So sometimes I felt a bit isolated, wondering what was being discussed behind my back. But I quickly saw that I didn’t have to control the situation every time, sometimes it was enough to just do nothing when there was a bit of tension in the air. It’s remarkable to see how people who don’t understand one another manage to nonetheless work well together in a friendly atmosphere.

Do you not think the subject is too serious to be broached with levity?
I don’t think so. Light doesn’t have to be superficial. I think you can make a comedy based on something that is highly topical. Humour also has its place in the tragic moments of life: the migrants, some of whom appear in the film, confirmed this for me. Welcome to Norway broaches a phenomenon in society which, as we know, affects several countries, it’s a delicate issue. That’s why I really wanted human tenderness and warmth to shine through, for my characters to not be mere anonymous pawns. Sometimes we tend to forget, when we talk about refugees, that we’re dealing with human beings in their own right. Some of them have very painful pasts, yes, but that doesn’t justify us treating them exclusively as victims, as they often have very strong characters, as Lars did, my great-grandfather who moved to the United States at the age of nineteen. Here it’s perhaps worth remembering from time to time that around 150 years ago, over 800,000 Norwegians, a third of the population back then, made the decision to emigrate to escape poverty, like others are doing now.

(Translated from French)

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