Prodigal filmmaker Hallstrom rediscovers Nordic roots

Cannes Daily Spotlight 2012: Swedish Cinema

It’s been 25 years since Lasse Hallstrom made a film in his native Sweden. Producers Peter Possne and Borje Hansson didn’t think he’d say yes to direct the bigscreen adaptation of “The Hypnotist,” the first in a series of eight planned crime novels by Lars Kepler, a pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril.

“When we phoned Lasse Hallstrom, we were very unsure that this was something he would like to do, because he hasn’t made a Swedish film for so long,” Possne says. “He said that he had always wanted to do a thriller, but no one had ever asked him.”

The combination of the bestselling book and Hallstrom’s name was sufficient to raise a $12 million budget, huge by Swedish standards, and for the pic’s financier Svensk Filmindustri to secure pre-sales all around the world. Only Japan and the U.S. remain open, although several American bids are on the table. The remake rights are also in demand, though Possne says he and Hansson may choose to co-produce any English-language version themselves.

The pic is in post-production to launch this fall. It stars Finnish actor Tobias Zilliacus as police detective Joona Linna, the central character of the franchise, and Mikael Persbrandt (“The Hobbit”) as the eponymous psychiatrist who reluctantly uses hypnosis to help track down a serial killer. The cast also includes Lena Olin, Hallstrom’s wife, as the psychiatrist’s spouse.

Possne reckons “The Hypnotist” will surprise anyone who has written off Hallstrom — who followed his breakout, Swedish-language film “My Life as a Dog” with such Hollywood efforts as “The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat” and “Dear John” — as a saccharine addict hooked on schmaltzy storylines. “It’s very different from any other Lasse Hallstrom film, because it’s a very scary thriller,” he says. “But what you can still connect to his other films is the feeling he has for his characters, and the quality of the acting.”

The second film in the series, “The Paganini Contract,” will shoot early in 2013, directed by Swedish veteran Kjell Sundvall. Possne says the plan from the start was to get a different director for each story, and to choose only the most internationally renowned Scandinavian helmers.

Many see the Kepler novels as the natural successors to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Indeed, the Ahndorils chose the name Lars Kepler in honor of Larsson (and of the German scientist Johannes Kepler).

“There’s a lot of crime being done in Sweden, but very few reach the level of Millennium. It took something special to attract Hallstrom back, and this is a very special book, which has been very successful internationally,” says Charlotta Denward, head of production at the Swedish Film Institute.

“These aren’t normal crime novels,” adds Possne, “but original stories with their own universe, like a mix of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Seven,’ and the Kepler authors have their own style.”

Cannes Daily Spotlight 2012: Swedish Cinema
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