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”I must have 100% control in order to be creative”

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Hlynur Pálmason • Director

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- LOCARNO 2017: We met up with Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason, who has presented Winter Brothers in the Golden Leopard competition

Hlynur Pálmason • Director
(© Locarno Festival/Sailas Vanetti)

We had a long chat with Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason about his inspiration, the necessity for creative control, his characters and his upcoming work. His film debut, Winter Brothers [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Hlynur Pálmason
film profile
]
, is the talk of the town in the International Competition at the 70th Locarno Festival.

Cineuropa: Did you intend on having the idea of family as a statement behind your story?
Hlynur Pálmason: For me family always provides enough material and everybody can relate, but I never felt as though I needed make a statement. I would consider that a failure as the only thing I can do right is to follow my interests. The core of my story was a hero who wants to be loved and that’s enough. It’s funny how films can drift sometimes and surprise you.

Is the element of surprise something that inspires you?
I think I’m very interested in things that are hidden. I need an every-day drive as I don’t know what will happen with each film or how they will end. I never have a clear plot idea in mind, I wait and see when a film takes off and then follow it wherever it wants to go. I think this that’s inspiring.

Why did you choose to set Winter Brothers in such remote location?
It’s actually only two hours from Copenhagen, but I did have this experience when doing my shorts. I learned from them and in a paradoxical sense, I really wanted them to be expressive and effortless at the same time, and I felt that the only way to do so was to create a world in which I could do almost whatever I wanted, with the possibility of peel off some of the elements. I could only live in one world, with one place to work and one place to sleep that was only 2km2 and accessible 24/7 in order to control it.

So, is control an indispensable element in your creativity?
In order to be just a little bit creative, I must have 100% control in order to be 100% free. I only had 7 weeks to film so I needed total freedom. If the weather was right I could be outside for specific scenes and I could also return inside immediately when anything changed. I really wanted the film to feel like a whole, but at the same time to also feel very naïve.

Emil’s character, portrayed by Elliott Todd Crosset Hove, helps steer the film in that direction, how did you go about creating him?
I collaborated with Elliott for the first time in The Painter, my graduation film, and I immediately fell in love with him. He was different every day, so I got something new from him every time and therefore I wanted to create this lack of love story with him as the protagonist. He has this huge contrast of being extremely intense and sort of ambiguous, but he also has this pure fragile naivety, which I find really stimulating. Because I knew that I wanted him in the main role, it meant that he was present while I was writing the script. We never talked about what we thought, it was more that he acted and I followed him, allowing new things to develop. It feels more organic that way.

Why did you include these awkwardly demure VHS tutorial videos?
This is almost an homage to the old army tutorial videos, many of the dialogues, the feel and the look is very much inspired by that. It feels strange but I think that the film needed something playful. I really take the playfulness seriously and feel that this is right balance for my film, I believe that the video tutorial was done in the right way and I spent a lot of time inserting into the film in the most natural way possible. It may seem quite absurd at times but I think it’s fairly effortless.

How was the experience of producing the film?
I had an excellent collaboration with my co-producers as we were a team and everyone followed the ups and downs of the production. I don’t believe that I have the right formula per se; it’s more a practicing experiment. After this one, my next film will have a different set up, so that I learn something new each time. I’m trying to keep what worked and change the things that didn’t, but I still need 100% control. I don’t change my crew and especially my editor Julius Krebs Damsbo who is always on set, along with my cinematographer, Maria Von Hausswolff.

What can we learn about your next project?
I can share that it’s called White White Day, an Icelandic-Danish production, shot in Iceland, so I’m going back to my roots. We are shooting the opening scene at the moment; it started last summer and will be finished next summer. After we have done that, the main filming will take place during all seasons so it will take two years in total.

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