Niclas Larsson • Director of Mother, Couch!
"I miss old masters like Billy Wilder or Jonathan Demme, I miss when genres were mixed"
- The first film by the young Swedish director tells the story of the complicated relationship between a son and his mother, and explores both dark and bright emotions
We met up with Niclas Larsson, director of Mother, Couch! [+see also:
interview: Niclas Larsson
film profile], his first feature film and the one that brought him to the New Directors section of the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Your film is based on the novel Mamma i soffa by Jerker Virdborg. What attracted you to the book?
Niclas Larsson: Virdborg is really good with words and building strong concepts. During the pandemic, he released this book, and I just read the first ten pages and I was like, oh, this is probably a movie. I wrote down what I thought was going to happen in the book, like a 40 pages document. And then I kept reading the book and I was like, this is great. So it was really the first ten pages that were a beautiful setup for a very simple movie, simple in a way that I could just put everything I wanted, all the trauma I have, into this one concept.
This question is perhaps a little outdated, but what genre would you say your film belongs to?
I miss the old masters like Billy Wilder or Jonathan Demme, I miss when genres were mixed. If you look at old Greek masks, they have a happy face on the front and a sad face on the back, but always on the same actor. This means that tragedy and comedy is the same. Nowadays, you call them comedies, and they're only comedies, and you call them sad movies, and they're only dramas. So I hope the genre is comedy and tragedy — if it has a genre at all.
The heart of the film is David, the central character played by Ewan McGregor. Did you have him in mind from the beginning?
Yes, absolutely. I like Ewan's simplicity. I saw what he did with Mike Mills in Beginners, and I just fell in love. I was like, that's such a good performance, such a simple way. I knew I needed my lead character to be this very normal guy, so he was the first one I thought of. I contacted him, I sent him the script, and he said yes.
And what about living legend Ellen Burstyn? What was it like to direct her?
It was scary at the beginning, because you don't know. Ellen Burstyn has been directed by the best directors in the world, and now you are the one in the position of directing her. But then it all grows into this sort of beautiful dance, you're there together and you start talking and the facade of her being Ellen Burstyn disappears. And she is just this human being like you and I. We just talk, I share what I want and she shares what she wants. And we build this little thing in the middle and we just hook onto it.
The production design is crucial to the film, with this chaotic set that changes as the emotions of the characters evolve. How did you handle that?
We decided to build everything in a studio, everything is artificial. And we decided to do so in order to be able to shape the furniture store exactly the way we wanted. I wrote a book for my team, I call it The Storm Book, and it is divided in nine chapters, nine storms. We were like, all right, this is the amount of furniture in storm one, this is the amount of furniture in storm two, and so on. So that was kind of easy, actually, following those steps, especially when you own the place, when you can just build walls and then remove them to change the shape of the space.
I think the way you use music to set the tone through the different ups and downs in the film is great. How was your work with the composer?
Me and Chris Bear had Hiroshima Mon Amour as a reference for a long time. We started asking questions about how David feels. So we started connecting the music to Ewan's character. And I think that's what you react to in the beginning, it's very stressful and confusing, and it's almost repetitive. And then we introduce his wife and she has a different score. And then on day two, we have an almost horrific kind of score. And then come the violins and it becomes very big, almost like an opera. Extremely melodramatic. Because David is accepting that everything is big around him. The emotions are big. He is big. If you watch the film again, you can clearly see that the music is following David's character throughout.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.