Why film a love story from 1912? That’s one of the questions asked by Swedish actress-writer-director Pernilla August when talking about her latest feature, “A Serious Game,” adapted from Hjalmar Söderberg’s novel. Film screened at the Norwegian Intl. Film Festival, which ran Aug. 20-26 in Haugesund, Norway.
August has a good answer for that: “Söderberg’s novel is a real classic, and everybody who has been in love will emotionally recognize the characters. It is also existential, about how we make our choices in life; I have been around for a long time, so I can identify both with Lydia, Arvid and Dagmar,” said August at the Norwegian Intl. Film Festival in Haugesund.
Set in Stockholm at the beginning of the 20th century, the film follows the love-at-first sight love story of Lydia, the daughter of a landscape painter, and Arvid, a young journalist. But the time is wrong: Lydia’s father dies and leaves her without an inheritance, and Arvid, also penniless, shies away from the idea of marriage. They part, and when they meet again 10 years later, they are both married and have children. Still, they embark upon a passionate affair.
“Swedish producers Patrik Andersson, Fredrik Heinig and Danish writer-director Lone Scherfig (who wrote the script) asked me if I would make the film, and I accepted almost immediately; for some time I had really wanted to work with a love story, and I also liked the challenge of the [early] 20th century setting. To me the characters were most important, and Stockholm circa 1912 came in second, which was not difficult since we shot the whole film in Budapest, Hungary,” she said.
August likens making films as a search “for the genuine in the human being, and I have especially been occupied by developing the women characters; Söderberg’s Lydia is (sorry, Hjalmar) very much of a mythical fantasy to Arvid, a one-dimensional, beautiful woman on a pedestal, while Dagmar (Arvid’s wife) is described as a rather angular person — I want to know where they come from, how they live, why they are doing what they are.”
August noted that her ambition to direct films has gotten stronger over the year. “If I had been a man, I would have realized it a long time ago, but it is not so easy for a woman. I began by making a 22-minute film and thought it was exciting, I could easily go on with that, and the first feature was not that far away,” August noted.
She recalled “sitting on a boat in the Swedish archipelago — I have a house in one of the small islands — I had read Finnish author Susanna Alikoski’s new novel, when I saw in a newspaper that Drakfilm Productions had bought the rights. They had offered me a project before, so I sent them a text, ‘If you need me for this, I am ready.’ And they did.
“Four years later, “Beyond” (2010) was released. After some acting assignments came ‘The Legacy’ for Danish pubcaster DR; I was conceptual director and directed the first three episodes; I performed in the second season, and in the concluding third I play a small role – an ecological crisis farmer – and I will also helm the ninth and last part.”
She credits legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman as meaning a lot to her in her work. “I was 21-years-old when he gave me the first film role, and 30 years later he directed me in his last production for the stage. When I started ‘A Serious Game,’ I felt I had two small angels on my shoulders — Bergman and [director] Bo Widerberg. But I have also realized that Norwegian actress-director Liv Ullmann has been very important to me.
“I learned a lot when she directed me in ‘Best Intentions’ (1992, from Bergman’s script); she created an inspiring, permissive environment for us actors, stimulated our fantasies and gave us trust in ourselves. So obviously I was happy this year to receive the festival and Ullmann’s honorary prize in Haugesund,” August said.
Starring Karin Franz Körlof, Sverrir Gudnason, Liv Mjönes, Michael Nyqvist, Mikkel Bo Følsgaard and Sven Nordin, “A Serious Game” was produced by Andesson, Heinig and Frida Bargo. It will be released in Sweden by Nordisk Film on Sept. 9. It is the third adaptation of Söderberg’s novel, after Swedish director Rune Carlsten (1945) and Norwegian director Anja Breien (1977).
Pictured above: Pernilla August