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Ronnie Sandahl • Director

“Everything’s harder than before”


- Cineuropa met with Swedish screenwriter and director Ronnie Sandahl to talk about his film Underdog

Ronnie Sandahl  • Director

Following a roundup of awards from Chicago to Zurich, Underdog [+see also:
film review
interview: Ronnie Sandahl
film profile
continues its green festival tour by stopping off at the Les Arcs European Film Festival where Swedish screenwriter and director Ronnie Sandahl came to support the movie. 

Cineuropa: Where does this story come from?
Ronnie Sandahl:
 It’s an original plot, because I’m a screenwriter first and foremost. I was busy finishing up a storyline about young people growing up in a small working class town in Sweden where I come from and when I returned to those places I got the idea for the movie. The economic crisis had hit and my young classmates — the first to lose their jobs according to our union rules — had deserted the town to try their luck in Oslo. Sweden found itself with the second highest youth unemployment rate after Greece. So I decided to abandon the film that I was writing which was almost entirely financed to begin a new storyline and a new film in co-production with Norway. The reason being, if I wanted to make a movie about contemporary Swedish youth, I would have to film it in Oslo. The producers were a bit apprehensive, but I kept the main female character and in the end, everything worked out well and the movie is close to the reality that I wanted to depict. 

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Why did you choose the family angle?
I always try to portray politics through personal experiences or personal experiences through politics. I needed to find a way to recount simultaneously the shift in economic and social power between Norway and Sweden, but also the imbalance between men and women and employers and employees. The dysfunctional family that takes on a housekeeper is the perfect context to illustrate all of these relationships. It’s a family drama, but it’s also a proletarian story in a way. I also wanted to create a strange love triangle. The finale shows this and I had that ending in mind ever since I started writing. The triangle also appears in the context of this contemporary family and it proves that, even when everything goes wrong in a society in crisis, you always have good people who can make a difference.

How would you class the type of racism that exists between Norway and Sweden that you illustrate in the movie?
I wouldn’t call that racism. Norway has always been Sweden’s little brother. The Swedes always used to mock the Norwegians up until the relationship was reversed over the last 10 years. Now Norwegians are generally a bit condescending when it comes to work. It’s not a nationality issue; it’s more of a class issue. In Norway, you could almost say that there is no class, just a middle class. Norway never had an upper class and it never had a lower class either because everyone is rich. For the same reason, the country imported its working class, mainly Swedish today, hence the feeling of superiority. By laughing at the Swedes, the characters are actually mocking the working class and this fact was a shock for lots of Norwegians who saw the film.

What’s the budget for the film? Is it also a crisis budget?
That always depends on whether you’re talking about real money or about the budget. When we started filming we had about 1 million euro to make this movie. We had a higher budget in mind and we managed to achieve this for a while, but that involved a series of contingencies that were not healthy for the film that I wanted to make. In order to protect this story and to adapt it whenever necessary, we needed to have more freedom and to work with a smaller budget that would allow me to decide everything and to maintain my artistic integrity. One million is less than the European average and less still when you’re filming in the most expensive capital in Europe.

Do you feel like you belong to a new wave of Swedish cinema?
I’m younger than the majority of directors who release films in Sweden today, so it’s difficult for me to identify with them or with their work, but there are others from my generation, born in the middle of the 80s, with whom I’ve more affinity like Gabriela Pichler who directed Eat Sleep Die [+see also:
film review
interview: China Ahlander
interview: Gabriela Pichler
interview: Nermina Lukac
film profile
. We grew up in the same Sweden, not that of the previous generation. All of that makes us very political — also because of the democratic racist party that came to power — in that we focus less and less on the middle class to tell stories about the working class or about a struggling generation that can’t count on the luck that its parents had, but only on its own production. Everything is harder than it was before: there’s job insecurity, the difficulty of finding a job and of finding a job that you love, an apartment or even just the path to adulthood.

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(Translated from French)

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