Hans Petter Moland Talks IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE
The Oslo born director was born in 1955, and studied film at Emerson College in the US. He's known by some as the "Ridley Scott of Norway" thanks to his mix of commercial and theatrical work. On the commercial side, he gained international recognition thanks to his witty and edgy commercials, including this famous spot for LOTTO scored by Sweet's Ballroom Blitz.
The ad that got him the most acclaim was the Cannes Golden Lion winning spot "No Means No", a commercial that caused such outrage that it caused the Norwegian government to modify their sexual assault laws. And that is something.
His commercials demonstrated his great range, from the stark and serious to the silly and comedic. This capacity to mine both comic and tragic has extended to his feature films, as shown with the likes of Aberdeen from 2000, and 2010's Golden Bear competition film A Somewhat Gentle Man. His latest film, In Order of Disappearance, also premiered in competition at Berlin and opened in most major territories over the course of the summer. This film, also called the "Norwegian Pulp Fiction" plays at Fantastic Fest and we strongly recommend you to see it.
Twitch spoke to Petter about his work as a director (most starring Stellan Skarsgård, a veteran of Moland productions) and we like him. This is why we like him.
What were the films that inspired you? I know you are a big fan of Billy Wilder.
Yes [laughs]. Back in the 1970s I was at film school in the States. That time really was the golden age of American cinema - Dog Day Afternoon, Five Easy Pieces, early Scorsese. That was a very influential period for me. It was fun to hang out with some ex-mafia guys in New York and listen to their stories.
I ended up seeing a lot of Italian films, more than any other films I'd [seen] back in Europe. I used to go to this old theatre in New York which had screenings few times a week. These old Italian guys would be there [to] see films, especially the neorealist ones from the likes of Vittorio De Sica.
Often your characters move out of their comfort zone. Why do you think that is?
I do not know if I can answer that. When things happen to us this pressure reveals something about our insides, which we normally try to hide. It is easy to hide, when we are in our comfort zone.
That to me is just a very natural set-up for stories to emerge.
What is the theme of "A Somewhat Gentle Man"?
When you set the man [physically] free, its not enough. You have to liberate his soul, in order for the man to be truly free.
The whole key to this is that Ulrik [Stellan Skarsgård] is a man without future. He takes four steps and then turns around and wants to go back in. It is really a story about a man, who has no hope and who then regains some hope in life in quite controversial way.
It is also a story about a man who everyone has kind of forgotten. He comes out prison and his family and friends go "Oh, you are here. I thought you were getting free next Thursday" or "Didn't you come out next month?" [laughs]. Everyone got along without him.
Normally we think of a son who grew up with a criminal father, that he should be full of anger. But he has his own life, he is actually good. When he has to choose between past and future, he chooses future.
He sees that the platform he is standing and can still dance on is a small one. He realizes that to manage his life, he has to look very closely, and see that the real problem in his life is not the man everyone asks him to go and kill, but [the man] who always pretended to be his friend.
Do you believe we all have a darkness inside of us?
I believe we all have a darkness inside of us. Most of us think murder is far beyond us and people who commit murder are other people.
I think we all have a point where we lose our civility in one way or another. We are part animal and part civilized human beings, and it is a constant battle. We are violent in small ways in our everyday lives.
People sneak a front of us in a queue and we want to hit them or yell at them, but we do not turn the other cheek.
In Order of Disappearance is a story about a man who has a purpose in life doing something very meaningful for his community. He does it very well, he even gets a medal for it and then, then he loses his civility. He becomes an animal.
This is how violence begins.
And also how revenge is born
I believe it is a part of us. I believe civility is something we need to cultivate every day.
As infants we are nourished by mother's milk and affection. Its normal for us to feel [this] closeness. When people come and compete with us for everything - things to love - it becomes a constant battle between wanting to play or competing with other children.
This is how our ego becomes a big part of us.
Is that why you often have a bitter or dark humour in your films?
I don't think its bitter, but dark? Yes. Maybe what is normal to me is dark to others! [laughs]
Some have suggested that the snow in In Order Of Disappearance is there to make the film look more like a fairytale. Was that to soften the violent nature of the film?
I did look for more snow in the mountains with no trees and plain fields to [create] a deliberate stylization.
[I did] the same with the city - it is Oslo, but only well-chosen parts of it. You would never get the view of the city and landscape you have in the film, in real life, as I actually put a road right in the middle of [a] fjord and moved the mountains closer.
[All] this could be [add up to] the fairytale version of the film: Once upon a time there lived a man in the wilderness, on the edge of the society, and he was the gatekeeper. Every day he would plough a little path through the wilderness for his fellow men. He was so good at this and his fellow men gave him an award for it. One day someone killed his son, and he was so struck by grief, he wanted to kill himself, but when he learned that the death of his son was not an accident, he become so enraged, he went looking for the people who put this pain in his heart.
If this contrast is also reflected in how you draw your characters, do you sometimes go to far? After all, you have a vegan gangster called "The Count" that some might this is too much
I don't think the Count [Pål Sverre Hagen, Kon-Tiki]is over-the-top. [He] is just a very childish human being - grotesquely absurd, but very real.
There is a lot of humor in the film, [something] that is oblivious to those [actually] in the film.
They are dead serious. Or dead! [laughs]
The Count is absorbed with himself, he feels so much injustice. Everyone is mean to him and on top of that - steal his cocaine. He is like a big child, [or] like a psychopath.
A childish psychopath?
Yes, like Vladimir Putin!
What is your key to working with actors?
You have to do whatever you can to make your actors trust the environment they are going to be in. You have to give them faith, you have to trust them.
When you ask people to dive into deep waters you have to be also prepared to save them.
If you ask people to give without a reserve, which is what a good performance needs, they need to be able to let go without the safety net.
[Actors] trust you to not make them fools. We all make mistakes, but in cinema, you just do it over again. Making a mistake is not a big deal - [the director] not discovering [the mistake], that's the big deal.
Your collaboration with Stellan Skarsgård is a long one - how did it start?
Twenty years ago we did a film called Zero Kelvin, [and] he was a big star already back then.
I had seen him on screen when he was a child star on TV. I did not have a TV, so I went to my neighbors, because I was a fan of his.
We have had over the years so much fun, exploring the characters together.
When you have a script, it is sort of a recipe to make a good meal, but the object is not really to duplicate what is in the script, it is to make it taste good. You have to constantly taste, and adjust, experiment. And if you are not courageous and do not have the will to challenge the material, it just becomes stale. You have to bring life to it.
That is what we did together, and we had a lot of fun doing that. So we did again. And again... and again... [laughs]
How do your stories come to you?
Normally [my story] is something I have worked on for a long time, and then it kind of ripens.
A Somewhat Gentle Man was a script given to me. I was asked to read it and I loved it, especially the first two acts of it. But I hated the last [act]! I said I am happy to do it, if we can change the end.
Two months later we were shooting it - I called Stellan, and he said yes.
The luxury of not being in the development is [sometimes] helpful, [allowing] you to see some things more clearly.
Do you have any recommendations for young directors?
You need passion. One really has to feel close to what they want to say.
Good films are the ones where you feel that this is [a story] worth being told.
Often you have to carry a project for years and years before it becomes a movie. That is a good test to see if the story has substance to survive. You read it again three years later and see if it's still as intriguing or interesting as it seemed back then.
Making a film just because you think it is fun to be a director is not a good enough reason to be one. It is a lot of work, so you better make it worthwhile.
The hard part to that is that you have to outlast the business. Even you have the talent it might take time before you get out there and make it happen. I was 36 years old when I got my first chance for a debut feature film... but of course I would of liked to make a film when I was 28.
In many ways, having life experience is a better and bigger pool for resources to make a good film. It's better to make [only] few good films, than many not-so-good ones!
In Order of Disappearance plays at Fantastic Fest on 20.09 at 5:55 PM and 24.09 at 11.45 AM in the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.