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Maria Bäck • Director of Psychosis in Stockholm

“You get used to navigating chaos”


- Cineuropa met up with Maria Bäck, the director of this year’s Göteborg opening film, Psychosis in Stockholm, as well as her baby boy, who joined her for the interview

Maria Bäck  • Director of Psychosis in Stockholm

In the opening film of the 43rd Göteborg Film Festival, Psychosis in Stockholm [+see also:
film review
interview: Maria Bäck
film profile
, graduate of the National Film School of Denmark Maria Bäck goes as personal as it gets, reflecting on her experiences as a teenage girl on a trip with a mother who is going through a mental breakdown.

Cineuropa: You frame the film with some audibly older voices, having a conversation, which makes the actual story seem like something they have been recounting to each other.
Maria Bäck:
The voices you hear are actually me and my mum. That’s the documentary side of it. The whole film is based on a trip I took with my mum when I was 14 years old. It’s a work of fiction, just based on a true story. I guess it’s not something you need to know beforehand, although maybe it provides a different experience. There might be something in these voices that gives it away.

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For the most part, it’s just them walking around the city, and the way this teenage girl [played by Josefine Stofkoper] reacts to her mother’s crisis is very down to earth. Did you want to keep some emotions at bay?
I didn’t want to create drama where it wasn’t necessary. It needed to feel natural, like a slice of life. Otherwise, you would lose the intimate core of the story. I wanted people to be able to see what this film is about, and it’s about their relationship. A mother and her daughter on a little vacation that goes wrong. I think I just told Josefine not to “act”. She needed to be who she would be, if she found herself in a similar situation. I worked with them very closely, but of course, she is not playing me, and Josefin Neldén is not playing my mother. I used my own experience to inspire the actresses, and then we built these characters together. I met a lot of people at various institutions and a lot of doctors; it was something I was able to use. As well as my diaries, which I have been writing since I was five years old.

In films where children are dealing with an ailing parent, they are often shown as wise beyond their years. Here, she remains childish, as Psychosis in Stockholm turns into “loneliness in Stockholm”.
For me, it is a film about loneliness, about this double life you have when you can’t share your experiences because you are ashamed, or because nobody asks you. I really wanted to allow others to feel what it would be like. How does it feel to go back to your hotel room all alone after your mother has been taken away, a room where you can still find traces of her? I guess you could have told this entire story in 15 minutes, because not that much actually happens, but when you look into these details, maybe at least you can feel what she feels.

As she says in the film, her mother’s problems started when she was just five. She has been in this situation her entire life, and you get used to navigating chaos. She still gets so much love from her mother. Sometimes it’s in the guise of hatred, but it has nothing to do with this illness – this woman is afraid of losing her daughter. It’s like when people are afraid their partner will break up with them, so they prefer to do it first. Love can take so many different forms.

They do seem close, with the first scenes looking like – forgive me for bringing this up – Gilmore Girls on a train. Was it a priority for you not to demonise the mother?
They have a close relationship; they are friends and their roles are sometimes reversed. Figuring out how to make people believe they are related was really hard. That love between a mother and a child, how do you act it out? It’s my first fiction film, so I went where I feel truly at home: to the dance studio. We started there, dancing. I wanted to show this woman in a way that wouldn’t be scary. She is a likeable person, but the human brain can be such a mystery. In some ways, she could be seen as a genius, freethinking and creative. What I have seen has nothing to do with the stereotypes repeated in films, with all these people sitting in a corner, combing their hair. You don’t lose all of yourself; you just don’t know what to trust, and that’s why it’s so hard to understand.

What made you go so personal already with your first fiction feature?
I come from a documentary background [in 2016, Bäck received an Honorary Mention from the Göteborg jury for I Remember When I Die], so all of the things I have done were personal to me as well. One day, this story knocked on the door inside of me and wanted to get out. And it didn’t really feel like I had any choice. I am not afraid of being personal – not at all. I needed this connection to be able to work for so many years. I needed to be touched in order to touch others.

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