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Johannes Nyholm • Director

"I always wanted to become a clown or a magician"


- A multi-award winner with his short films, Swedish director Johannes Nyholm has had a promising start to his feature film career with The Giant

Johannes Nyholm  • Director

Swedish artist and writer-director-producer Johannes Nyholm is used to international attention – his first three shorts were selected for Cannes, including his debut Puppetboy (2008) and Las Palmas (2011), which received several awards, including Best Short at Sweden’s Göteborg International Film Festival and a Guldbagge, Sweden’s national film prize.

His feature debut, The Giant [+see also:
film review
interview: Johannes Nyholm
film profile
, has also had a promising start, being selected for the Toronto International Film Festival. It won the Special Jury Prize at San Sebastian, and, last week, it received a Special Mention at Iceland’s Reykjavik Film Festival. It is currently being presented at the BFI London Film Festival and South Korea’s Busan Film Festival and will be launched domestically on 14 October by TriArt Film.

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Also scripted by Nyholm, and produced by Maria Dahlin for Garagefilm International, The Giant stars Christian Andrén as an autistic 30-year-old named Rikard, who lives in a home for disabled people. He was separated from his mother at the age of three, a fact that continues to torment him. To deal with life's trials and tribulations, he escapes into a fantasy world, where he is a 50-metre giant. He also plays boules with his best friend, dreaming of becoming the Nordic champion – and of being reunited with his mother.

Cineuropa: How did you come up with the character Rikard, the film’s protagonist? He is certainly not the kind of person you meet every day in the grocery store.
Johannes Nyholm: Rikard is an unusual figure – I would be very pleasantly surprised, if he showed up at my local grocer’s. He is the physical manifestation of a mental state from a fever dream I had when I was four years old. In its most extreme form it was close to the metaphysical – it was difficult to communicate with the outside world; it was hard to reach and difficult to be reached by it. I looked at it from a distance, as if through the wrong lenses of a pair of binoculars – far, far over there I saw people speaking a language I did not understand, about things I couldn’t relate to.

How would you describe him?
He obviously has some weaknesses with communication and the outside world. His mind works differently, he only has one eye, and ears that are partially covered by growths. Moreover, he somewhere on the autistic spectrum. His strength is his will and inner world, which is extremely rich, poetic and magical. His character is so strong that it affects his physical world and helps him heal the wounds he carries.

His everyday life doesn’t seem enviable.
The limits and restrictions we have to face will sometimes help us to overcome them in the most unlikely way.

Still you made a fairy tale with a sort of happy ending.
The film is in many ways very optimistic. I wanted to portray environments and situations that are not usually described as advantageous from a bright perspective. As to whether the resolution is happy or not, I don’t really want to say. But hopefully it leaves you with some comfort. 

Was it a difficult production to stage?
I wrote a first version of the script almost ten years ago, and very quickly. After that it sat in a drawer, maturing. I picked it up four years ago, then streamlined, simplified and honed it, and took it as a work-in-progress to the CineMart in Rotterdam, where we managed to win the Eurimages award. That helped financing significantly.

Apart from the fact that your lead actor had to spend four and a half hours in make-up before shooting, did you have any other problems during production?
Yes, make-up took immense resources, both in terms of time and money. But the production demanded many different things of us – I mean, we have a 50-metre high giant wandering around Copenhagen and Gothenburg. Still, the most demanding scenes were during the Nordic boules Championship, when I had to direct 300 extras. 

When did you realise you wanted to become a film director?
When I was a little boy, I always wanted to become a clown or a magician. Then, at 15, I realised there was a way to combine these two ambitions – to become a filmmaker. 

Have you always been fascinated by the combination of fantasy and reality?
Yes. What happens between when you are awake and asleep, between imagination and thought is very exciting and particularly interesting if you are not quite sure which side you are on. Our perception of reality is so limited, there is so much more beyond our comprehension. I would like to carefully open the door into the unknown and sprinkle some magical glow over our grey existence.

Will you also create a special universe for your next film?
Actually my next film, Koko Koko-di-da, is almost ready – I shot it before The Giant. It is a completely different universe, but with the same floating journey between dream and reality. And if The Giant is a dream, Koko Koko-di-da is a nightmare.

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