Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson • Director of Beautiful Beings
“The shoot was like a dance between the cinematographer, me and the kids”
by Teresa Vena
- The Oscar entry from Iceland is a coming-of-age drama about violence among young people as well as a manifesto on the importance of friendship
Beautiful Beings [+see also:
interview: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
film profile] by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson celebrated its world premiere at this year's Berlinale and is now travelling around several international film festivals, such as Thessaloniki, where it had its first Greek bow. It is also Iceland’s hopeful for the upcoming Oscars (see the news). We talked to the Icelandic director about his inspiration for the story, the meaning of family and friendship, and his young cast.
Cineuropa: At one point in the film, you quote news from a television report about the rise in violence among youths. Were you inspired by real reports in Iceland?
Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson: The film draws its inspiration from a period in my teenage life, when there was a lot of youth violence going on in Iceland, especially among boys. Then, the government took action and managed to change things, and it got better quite rapidly. One of the measures that worked very well was to encourage youngsters to take part in sport. While the violence rates went down for a while, around ten years ago, they started to go up again. It's nothing compared to what it used to be, but still, it is difficult to tell why it’s happened. It's also possible that now, with social media, it's easier to spot it than it was in the past. Anyway, I was inspired for the story by my neighbourhood, but it’s still a fictional tale. It’s one that my generation will be able to relate to quite strongly.
The topics of friendship and family recur in several of your films. The relationship between fathers and sons is very important, too. Do you insert your own experiences into the stories?
As for myself, I come from a divorced family, and there are a lot of such families in Iceland. Like me, a lot of my friends grew up with strong female role models. My father was missing from my life; I had a stepfather who was a great man, but he was a sailor and was absent as well. I had no violent male person at home, but this was not the case for quite a lot of kids in the neighbourhood. I could see that they were afraid of their fathers. For me, it was surprising, twisted and weird. I saw a lot of grown-up men who were tough guys at home and fragile ones when they were drinking. Iceland was a country of toxic masculinity when I grew up. But it has changed a lot, thankfully. Besides these important background topics, I would like to highlight that with this film, I wanted to focus more on friendship than on violence. The friendship between the boys is the most important element in the movie. It shows that even if everything else is tough, friendship is still possible, and it can become the most important thing, also at this age. It can be a group of bad boys, but they can still have an important friendship.
How did you find the young actors? And how did you work with them to prepare them for their roles?
We did an open casting, trying to get as many boys as possible to come. We picked our group and had a long workshop beside the school, putting more and more responsibility on them, doing a step-by-step kind of training. Their own life experiences are quite far removed from their characters’, even though most of them knew boys at school who could relate to the story.
Could you tell us more about how you developed the visual concept of the film? What were the most important aspects of this?
I wanted these boys, the protagonists of the story, to see the film. That’s why it had to feel as realistic as possible. We decided to shoot with a handheld camera, which we used as a kind of emotional sensor. It gives the kids a lot of freedom, and it follows how they move, keeping it fluid and allowing them to improvise with their bodies. The shoot was like a dance between the cinematographer, me and the kids. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, our DoP, is amazing at reading a scene and interacting with the actor. His work is magical.
How strongly do you feel the influence of Icelandic cinematic heritage in your own work?
I think Beautiful Beings is quite different from other Icelandic arthouse films – for example, because we are not portraying or using nature as a big character in the feature. In my previous movie, Heartstone [+see also:
interview: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
film profile], it was different. The story is set in a small town, and there, you can't get around nature, as it is part of your life. What I realised is that people have a mental image of Iceland that doesn't necessarily fit with our story, since they think it is a country where there is no crime and where there are no problems. I like the fact that with the film, we show another side of the country and that it has many layers.
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