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Mia Engberg • Director of Lucky One

“I want to make films that only I can make”


- We chatted to Mia Engberg, who, through art and research, attempts to turn her old documentary subjects into fictional ones in her new film Lucky One

Mia Engberg  • Director of Lucky One
(© Camilla Lindqvist)

Mia Engberg has been an active force in Swedish cinema from very early on. After studying film at the Ateliers Varan in Paris, she graduated from the Stockholm Dramatic Institute in 1996. To date, she has written, directed and sometimes shot a number of works, usually within the documentary genre. She has played bass in the punk/ska band Vagina Grande and instigated the Sexy Film Manifesto, reclaiming women’s rights to sex. The latter also spawned Dirty Diaries – 12 Shorts of Feminist Porn, a collection of erotic shorts. In 2013, she released the semi-biographical, semi-documentary Belleville Baby [+see also:
film profile
. Recently, Engberg has developed Visual Silence, an aesthetic concept that challenges elements of sound and visual gaze. With Lucky One [+see also:
film review
interview: Mia Engberg
film profile
, now premiering at the Göteborg Film Festival, she tests out her ideas.

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Cineuropa: “Mia” and “Vincent” are the two main characters in both Lucky One, labelled “fiction”, and Belleville Baby, labelled “documentary”.
Mia Engberg:
 Which it really isn’t – I guess I would call it a poetic essay. The documentary element is Vincent appearing as my ex-lover, who has been in prison, and how we reminisce and reconcile. In Lucky One, I was interested in bringing the Vincent character into a fiction story. I’ve long been inspired by Marguerite Duras, who likes to address love and violence, and also brings back some of her characters now and again. Like David Bowie and Major Tom. Very exciting.

“Mia” is seen, or rather heard, creating the film as we watch it. She talks to a “you”, who may be Vincent but may also be us, the viewers.
I kind of “borrowed” this from Lars von Trier’s Europa, where a voice-over guides the “you” into the story. I’m fond of the second-person pronoun; it establishes a relation between “me” and “you”, as you watch my film. 

The story is pure and simple.
Very. It’s about a petty gangster whose semi-estranged daughter has to stay with him while her mother, his ex, is away. He’s torn between being a good father and a good mob employee. When a young prostitute needs his help, he’s put through a test. A classical story, really, told by “me” to “Vincent” over the phone. It will continue into a third film, in a trilogy about our exchange. And just as Belleville Baby was coupled with a book release, Lucky One will also have one.

You like to combine art forms: cinema, non-fiction literature, poetry… You are also studying a Media PhD at the Stockholm University of the Arts.
True. I refer to my recent work as “Visual Silence”, which is a research project I conducted at the university. When it comes to poetry, for example, rhythm is important, as are silences. I’m probably inspired more by other art forms than by cinema. 

In your “director’s vision”, you do mention Duras and Derek Jarman, and you’ve touched upon Trier. They like to transgress and transform the arts, sometimes via rules. Did you yourself create any structures along these lines?
One rule, of sorts, was that it’s night for most of the time in the visual version of the story. I’ve ruled out all things stereotypical, like in the Paris shots, where none of the “usual” areas are shown. This was interesting to work with. Actors are sparingly seen, and dialogue is only heard, which makes for a sort of detached experience. My idea is to create an image within the spectator, a creative space. It comes from my love of literature, creating images while reading. The editing took a long time. Some of the backers reacted to the lack of images, not least when the screen is black. They wanted more for their money.

Six years have passed since Belleville Baby. Do you work slowly?
I do. I do my own editing, I think and I rethink. I want to make films that only I can make, and this is my method. I’ve also been teaching at the university, which I love, and I also mentor young students.

“Baby” in Belleville Baby is a cat. “Lucky” in Lucky One is a hamster. Will the third part have a third animal?
Well spotted. The working title of part three is “Black Bird”. So that’s a yes.

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