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Director, Artist Anna Odell on Exploring Identity in ‘X&Y’

In Anna Odell’s much-anticipated ”X&Y,” which world premieres as the opening film at the Stockholm Film Festival, the director also plays the leading role alongside Mikael Persbrandt, one of Sweden’s most renowned actors. Odell spoke to Variety about the film.

Odell is one of Sweden’s best-known contemporary artists and, since her directorial feature debut – “The Reunion” in 2013 – also a sought after name in Swedish cinema. The film won the top prize in Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival, and two Guldbagge Awards, Sweden’s top movie honor, for film and screenplay. In “The Reunion,” Odell drew inspiration from her own life as someone with mental health issues, in order to raise questions about bullying, school hierarchies and power structures in society.

In “X&Y” Odell and Persbrandt play different versions of themselves, together with six alter egos – all played by well-known Swedish and Danish actors, among them Sophie Gråbøl, Trine Dyrholm, Vera Vitali and Jens Albinus. They are gathered in a studio with the purpose of casting light on public images of themselves, and exploring situations both playful and unpleasant, including seduction to childbearing.

Odell plays an artist with no boundaries, Anna, opposite Persbrandt, the scandalous but sensitive actor and alpha-male Mikael; she is mostly in the dominant position.

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Why did she choose herself as a focus for the film?
“I use myself in order to explore and to understand people, events and attitudes. In that sense there is no difference to my previous film. I have already got my feet wet, so to speak, but still it was equally challenging this time since I worked with many well-known actors,” Odell says.

Is “X&Y” a more playful film than “The Reunion”?
“Yes, since Mikael [Persbrandt] and I are playing with our public personas. ‘The Reunion’ was more of a serious study of these structures, where I used actors to protect the actual persons. In this film Mikael and I play with the media’s representation of ourselves, at the same time as we’re mixing different sides of ourselves – the one we are, the one we’ve been and the one we would like to be.”

The film touches on issues relating to #metoo. For example, the director (played by you) is threatened to be put on trial after a sexual assault. What has the #metoo movement meant for the film?
“The film was already in progress and I had already worked with the topics that #metoo raised, so it didn’t have any crucial influence. I felt assured with the material I had; at the time I had worked on the project for two years, and #metoo became sort of a mirror of that. But, of course, I was, as were most people in the industry, affected.”

To what degree is “X&Y” an attempt to depict a female director in a position traditionally much more attributed to a male director?
“Of course the idea of exploring the image of the privileged artist’s boundless behavior has been a central part of the film. Male or female? Historically this behavior has been male, just take a look at Bergman, or other men in strong power positions, and it is obvious how this becomes a part of their work.”

“I work in an exploratory way, and what I’m trying to explore is how we relate to each other and the world. What, outside ourselves, do we know with certainty? If I’d known from the start which result I wanted to achieve, it wouldn’t have been an exploration. And what I’m actually trying to explore is the norms of society. I work with our fear of weakness.”

What do you hope to achieve with “X&Y”?
“I hope that people who see the film will get a more critical view of the ’reality’ presented in media.”

“X&Y,” produced by the leading Swedish production company B-Reel Films, will be released in Sweden on Nov. 23.

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