STOCKHOLM — After two resolutely uncommercial films, Swedish helmer Lukas Moodysson is back with his biggest film yet. “Mammoth,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams, is set for a September world premiere.
Shot in English, the project will determine whether the helmer can still make films that appeal to a worldwide audience. But Moodysson says he’s not focusing just on advancing his career.
“I do what I feel for. It would be hard for me to do the same thing over and over again. I want to challenge both myself and the audience,” he tells Variety.
And challenge the audience, he truly did with his last two films. The claustrophobic porn-shoot film “A Hole in My Heart” and the experimental “Container” garnered positive reviews but few filmgoers. Was the auteur of arthouse hits “Fucking Amal” (aka “Show Me Love,”) “Together” and “Lilya 4-Ever” heading for obscurity?
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“To go from ‘Container’ to ‘Mammoth’ is a big step,” he says from the pic’s Philippines location. This one has a very clear storyline, it’s more accessible. It’s a very big step, even though I don’t know if it is a step forward or backward.”
Bernal plays a U.S. businessman who goes on a business trip to Thailand, where things happen that rock his world. Moodysson does not want to reveal more about the plot.
“For those who have seen my previous films, there are links to them all. In many ways, it is close to ‘Together,’ even though this is more serious and not as funny. One theme is about children in jeopardy. That is common for all my films.”
Moodysoon’s producer, Lars Jonsson at Memfis Film, has been supportive of even of his more experimental efforts.
Moodysson says, “He has never put any pressure on me, he has never tried to stop me from doing anything. I know this is a luxury. There are very few directors-producers with this kind of cooperation.”
With its budget of 70 million Swedish kroner ($11 million), “Mammoth” is by far the biggest and most expensive film Memfis Film has produced.
Jonsson says “Lukas handles the freedom I give him with great responsibility. Both ‘A Hole in My Heart’ and ‘Container’ were ment to be low budget experiments, and we never expected them to get a large audience.” Jonsson says foreign distributors have also stood by the eclectic helmer.
“They are often people who have wanted to follow Lukas in his career. They have seen that he has artistic qualities as well as a capability to reach out to a large audience, even though the films are not certain blockbusters.”
Jonsson names Bob Berney’s Picturehouse in the U.S. and Metrodome in the U.K. as companies that have followed Moodysson even through his experimental stages. “Mammoth” should be ready just in time for the fall fest season. Both “Together” and “Lilya 4-Ever” had their international premieres in Venice. “Mammoth” has so far shot in Thailand and in the Philippines. In January, there will be four weeks in a Swedish studio, followed by a week of location shooting in New York.
Moodysson says directing in English is no problem, especially compared with shooting in Russian for “Lilya 4-Ever.”
“But it was hard when we started, because I had almost forgotten what it was like to work on a big film, since the last two were so small.”