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Stockholm: Swedish Helmer von Horn Talks About His Debut ‘Here After’

One of the biggest revelations in Scandinavian films at Cannes this year was Magnus von Horn’s feature debut, “The Here After,” a Swedish-Polish-French production, shot by “Ida” cinematographer Lukasz Zal. It’s played to acclaim at several international festivals on its way to Stockholm. TrustNordisk has sold “The Here After” to France, U.K., Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland and Korea.

The drama follows John, a man who returns to his small town hoping to start a new life after serving time in prison. Feeling abandoned by his former friends, John loses hope and decides to confront his past.

Magnus von Horn was born in Goteborg, Sweden, but was educated at the Film School in Lodz, Poland, where he teaches. 

“The Here After” is competing for the Bronze horse at Stockholm.

The film had a great reception at this year’s Cannes, in a strong selection of films in Directors’ Fortnight. How was that experience?

It was an amazing experience, especially the screening, the nervous moment with 800 people in the theater. I mostly sat staring at my feet, it was hard. Then the 10-minute applause (after the film’s over), and it’s like all of the sudden losing 10 kilos. I’m mostly proud that we managed to do the film — it took us five years. And since it’s not exactly a crowdpleaser, it was important to come off to a good start in Cannes, a good platform.

And now, half a year after Cannes, what’s the feeling?

It’s been intense all the time. Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Toronto, San Sebastian — they are all the big festivals that I always dreamed of. I’m not used to it, it’s very time-consuming, but it’s fun to meet the audience. Now the film lives its own life sort of, it doesn’t need me, I can be a passenger, which is cool.

What do you expect competing at Stockholm followed by the Swedish release?

It’s great to be in the main competition at Stockholm, to compete against so many good films, and also to have the Swedish premiere during the festival, on Nov. 20, in the country that I come from, was raised in and feel strongly for. But I have no idea how it will be received, which discussions that will take place. I have lived in Poland for so long and I couldn’t have made this very film if I hadn’t lived there. It’s a Polish point-of-view on Sweden, which means a certain kind of confrontation.

“The Here After” depicts a very patriarchal society. How much of the film is inspired of your own Swedish upbringing? 

My experience of Swedish people is a certain kind of repression of emotions, a fear of expressing emotions. You keep it to yourself, like in a pressure cooker. I think it’s mainly a male problem, a relatively passive violence until it’s released. In Poland, “The Here After” would have been a short film, because the dramatic fuel wouldn’t been enough, the reaction would have come quicker. It’s a universal theme, but the ways of expressing it differ a lot.

The cold objectivity of the films is emphasized in the long takes. How did you and the D.P. Lukasz Zal find your way there?

The imagery is based on the characters’ inner conflicts. They’re afraid of what they feel. The father, for example, is afraid of not loving his son anymore. He’s detached from himself, that’s why the camera is also detached. We stipulated 10 commandments before the shooting. One of them was that the camera should be like a cat, not a dedicated dog. The cat keeps in the background, at the window, distanced, disconnected, no empathy.

 

You’re never afraid that the audience would find the film lacking empathy?

We’ve made a film where the spectators themselves must take a certain responsibility, to engage themselves. Things must be allowed to happen out of frame, and questions must be left open.

I think the film is everything but lacking of empathy: a murderer who is a human being, not treated differently. I find it a deeply emphatic, humanistic film. And if I started to guide (the audience) — here you should show empathy and so on — then I would be a moral flag bearer, which would be ludicrous.

Your films unfurls in a steadfast European auteur tradition, reminiscent of the films of Michael Haneke, but perhaps even more Bruno Dumont. Who are you sources of inspiration?

I agree, Haneke but even more Dumont. And also Carlos Reygadas. I steal with pride, I don’t copy, but I have images in my head in order to find inspiration. But when the story is written the inspiration comes naturally, without thinking of it. At the same time, my biggest inspiration is not filmmakers, but the world around us, in my case, the ability to live abroad and to get a certain distance, which allows you to look back at your home country.

What’s next after “The Here After”?

I’m working on both a Polish and a Swedish production. To have one foot in each country is important to me. In Poland I’m interested in the everyday contemporary life, and too few Polish films treat this subject, whereas in Sweden I’m more drawn to a timeless quality, a different kind of gap to fill in a Swedish film landscape obsessed with the contemporary.

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