A popular Swedish musician-turned-filmmaker, Amir Chamdin struck a chord with his slow-burning crime thriller series “Partisan” headlined by Fares Fares (“Chernobyl”). Before playing in competition at Canneseries, “Partisan” pulled the highest ratings for an original on Viaplay, the Nordics’ leading streaming service. “Partisan” follows Johnny (Fares Fares), a mysterious man who enters Jordnära, a seemingly idyllic gated community running a thriving organic farm, to work as a truck driver and soon suspects trafficking. The five-part series was produced by Warner Sweden and is being represented in international markets (outside of Scandinavia) by Federation Entertainment. Chamdin, who traveled to Canneseries in the South of France for the premiere of “Partisan,” spoke to Variety about the making of the series.
What’s the genesis of “Partisan”? How did you come up with this story?
I’m fond of many movies from the 1960’s and 1970’s and that inspired the look of it. Then I had the idea of making a mystery thriller that would be set in beautiful Swedish summertime and be dark at the same time, because I find the contrast compelling. One of the selling point of Sweden is the nature but we seldom see it in Scandinavian thrillers. Even though it’s a series, I wanted it to have a cinematic style and challenge audiences who are used to seeing so much content; so the idea was to make a mystery, a character-driven series as much as a plot-driven one, so that viewers can embark on a journey with that character (Fares Fares). But it’s not just dark, there is also a love story!
The series takes place in an organic farm that’s involved in some sinister activities. Did you try to make a statement or highlight some hypocrisy or irony?
I’m not being ironic but I’m playing a bit with the green business. There is of course some dark humor — It’s a little bit “Fargo-esque.” It shows the characters are very concerned about how they grow vegetables and they seem to be living in a perfect world but you sense that anything can go wrong, and it gets scarier and scarier. At first, you want to step in into that world, but then you realize the corners are far from perfect.
Fares Fares plays such a prominent role in “Partisan;” did you write the role with him in mind?
I contacted Fares Fares, who is a friend, early on, right after I found the concept and DNA of the series. He said ‘yes’ very quickly and asked: ‘Can we write it together?’ So we worked together on the storyline and the concept. I then found a writer for each episode and oversaw the whole process. I liked it the way we collaborated all together on the scripts and when I started directing if I knew exactly how I was going to film it and for Fares, I knew what character I wanted him to play.
How Swedish is “Partisan” and how do you think it stands out from other crime thrillers that we’re used to seeing?
I think what’s Swedish about it is the way we are portraying the characters. In Sweden we tend to watch too many cop shows in the U.S. and we like to pretend we’re the same but we are different. I liked to portray these characters in a more downbeat way, instead of showing them as tough people. There is also a certain Swedish melancholy, we have that naturally in Sweden. We go from crying to laughter.
Where did you shoot “Partisan”?
We actually shot it 45 minutes from Stockholm, on an island that’s 30 minutes away from the King Royal Palace. When I was a kid I would always go there to get groceries and would see all these farmers. When I was thinking about the concept of the series, I clicked and realised that backdrop, the organic farm, was the DNA. I always start from something that I know whether it’s a film or a series. But although the series shot there, I purposely did not give a precise location for the story backdrop. It could take place anywhere in Sweden.
How come there are only five episodes?
I like the fact that it’s a slow burning show and at the same time, in each episode we take giant leaps in the plot. Aside from the character played by Fares Fares, we follow three or four characters, including three girls who are coming into the community in a different way and we get to look at things from their perspective. That’s something that you can do in TV which you can’t do in films.
What’s your obsession as a filmmaker?
The obsession that I have is to work with underdog characters. I grew up watching films by Chaplin and I’ve always been interested in exploring the perspective of underdog characters, outcasts who are navigating this world. They don’t need to be good guys.
How did your track record in music and commercials help you with the making of “Partisan”?
I’ve been able to develop a visual style for the last 20 years, first with my band and then with films. I’ve also learned craftsmanship. I’ve been making commercials and music videos for a long time and have always been lucky to have a lot of projects that has made me confident as a director. That background helps you find out who you are, and where you put your cameras. Any director who does music videos will tell you that time is money. So when you come into a shoot you need to be prepared, have a clear vision and a rock-solid concept. I also composed the original score for “Partisan.”
What are you working on?
I’m developing ideas for features so we’ll see…. I’m working on a documentary about one of the biggest Swedish rock bands (The Hellacopters).