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Roy Andersson • Director

“Films that are universal and timeless”


- VENICE 2014: Cineuropa sat down with Swedish director Roy Andersson to talk about his sources of inspiration and how he funded his latest film, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Roy Andersson  • Director

The award-winning Swedish director Roy Andersson gained an international reputation with his first feature, A Swedish Love Story, which won four prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1970. In 1981, he founded his Studio 24 in Stockholm and produced commercials in order to finance his films independently. He created a unique filmmaking style for The Living Trilogy, which includes Songs from the Second Floor, which won him the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, You, the Living [+see also:
film review
interview: Pernilla Sandström
interview: Roy Andersson
film profile
 and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence [+see also:
film review
interview: Roy Andersson
film profile
, Golden Lion at Venice.

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Cineuropa: In your films you like to combine age, absurdness and death. Are your films received in the same way by different cultures?
Roy Andersson: It is astonishing that we are very similar wherever the human being is living. We have basic things in common that we feel, such as respect, fear, happiness and sadness. Sometimes, we think it is different, but in the deepest recesses of our soul, we are very close to each other. Even people in a small African village have the same things to think about – how to survive, to be happy, to eat, drink and to have children.

What is the meaning behind this film?
The tension in existing between the banal and the serious; the wide spectrum of life, of existence. For me, there are three themes that are the most important. One is the lack of empathy, which is a very bad thing – especially nowadays – as it shows an increasing lack of respect. Vulnerability is also one of my themes. I am so sad if I see vulnerable people being humiliated. Humiliation is also a theme that preoccupies me. 

What are your sources of inspiration?
It is about life. I have seen it and I have experienced such situations. Sometimes, life is very common, banal and not very interesting. Sometimes it is very interesting, fascinating and also frightening. I really love this mixture, and I also love mixing up time. In this movie, there are a lot of anachronisms, blending the past and our time. I am happy to dare to do it because earlier I was more realistic. But after 15 years, I was so tired and felt daring enough to leave realism and move into abstraction.

What made you change your approach?
I was inspired by a German who had such cruel experiences in World War I. Otto Dix is number one in the New Objectivity. All these paintings have a deep focus. In my early career, I did not have much of a deep focus and concentrated more on the faces, and had fog in the background. Now it is impossible for me to make a scene without deep focus, but it requires more time and money. That is also why I prefer to be in the studio. Like Matisse, I say take away everything that is not necessary for the pictures. My pictures are purified nowadays. I want them to be universal and timeless. To get the universal quality, I prefer to have the same skin colours on the actors and clothes that are not too strongly coloured. I will never return to realism. 

What kind of experience did you have with Ingmar Bergman at film school?
He was the inspector at our film school in Sweden that I graduated from many years ago. Two times a year, we had to go to his office, and he would tell us what we should be doing. At that time, I was very engaged in the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. It was a generous school where we could borrow a camera for two years, and get material to shoot as well as getting the costs of the lab covered. When Ingmar Bergman realised that we were using those resources to shoot demonstrations, he was so angry. He warned me: “If you continue using those things that you have privileged access to here, you will never get the chance to make a feature.” 

What did you do?
I didn’t heed that warning. I knew he would lose that battle in the long run. 

In the past, you financed your films by producing commercials. How did you fund this film?
I built up my studio by producing commercials. But this time around, I didn’t need to interrupt the process to make commercials for liquidity, and I am happy about that. I hope I don’t have to shoot commercials any more to fund my next movie, because the quality of commercials has declined. I am almost a little ashamed to be involved in that business. But when I started my career at that time, there were some very good commercials around. 

How did you fund Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence?
I got funding support from the Film- und Medienstiftung NRW in Germany, the CNC in France, Eurimages, Arte, and the Swedish and Norwegian Film Institutes, as well as some presales. Altogether we had a budget of 40 million Swedish krona, which is about €4 million. 

How do you manage to work on your movies for so long and keep the actors available?
You have to find solutions. I think that we work in very cheap way. It is possible by working in my own studio and also in my own time. I invest a lot on my own and hope to get something back in the future. For all these three movies, I had to take out a bank loan. I really want to control the movie and don’t want to give it to another company. 

What will your next film be about?
It will be very much inspired by Goya’s “Los Caprichos” paintings. I will shoot it digitally again.

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