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Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein • Directors of Swoon

“You should never do what everyone else is doing”


- Cineuropa talked to Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, the makers of Swoon, chosen as this year’s closing film of the Göteborg Film Festival

Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein  • Directors of Swoon
(© Johan Bergmark)

Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein previously worked together on Storm [+see also:
film profile
, the Julianne Moore-starrer Shelter and the blockbuster Underworld: Awakening, as well as Shed No Tears [+see also:
film profile
, nominated for seven Guldbagge Awards. Now, the Swedish directors tell Cineuropa about their latest film, Swoon [+see also:
film review
interview: Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein
film profile
 – an extravagant romance set in the 1940s in the world of two competing amusement parks – which closed this year’s edition of the Göteborg Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: How did you intend to construct this world? Its mixture of fantasy and period details brings to mind what Baz Luhrmann used to do.
Måns Mårlind:
 The reason why we chose this form, which is called “magic realism”, is because we wanted to enhance the characters and their feelings visually, without relying only on the acting. We wanted to use the production design and the camerawork as well.

Björn Stein: And also, we are not that fond of period movies. They can become quite stale very quickly – once people wear these costumes, they just start to talk differently. We didn’t want to show what this time looked like – we preferred to create our own version of it.

MM: With Luhrmann, his films are very exaggerated in their performances as well. We like to create magical worlds, but we want them to feel real and ground them with the actors. For us, it just works better.

There is such playfulness to the scenes that stray from reality, like when the two protagonists shoot roses at each other. What kinds of inspirations were at the back of your minds?
 In the case of this scene, we just knew it would take place in a dream. They were fighting before, so what could they dream of? A duel. But it’s a dream, so anything can happen, and yes, they could even be firing roses at each other [laughs]. We know these references, like Barry Lyndon, for example, but we weren’t trying to recreate something we have already seen. It passes through our minds and into our films, and then something else comes out. We didn’t want to have a duel straight from a western – the island where the story takes place gave it shape. And they are shooting roses instead of bullets because although they have this conflict, they are also in love. 

When it comes to forbidden romances or doomed lovers, we have seen that story so many times before. Wasn’t that a concern?
 There is a clip on YouTube of the most common chord progressions used in pop music. They are all the same, but you hear these songs and you would never be able to tell. I think it’s the same thing here. It’s the oldest story in the world, yes, and yet we all want to see it again and again, through a new filter. It’s only human.

You have known each other since you were kids – just like your protagonists. Has your collaboration changed over the years?
 We started working together professionally more or less 15 years ago, but our families had country houses in the same spot, and that’s where we met. We were nine and ten years old, respectively. There was this old, run-down cinema – pretty much like Cinema Paradiso. They were showing old movies, and we didn’t have any money, so we collected bottles and cans – luckily, there were many drunks in the area [laughs]. That’s when we started to love movies.

BS: The way we do it is that we do pre-production together, then we flip a coin, and each of us directs every other day. If I win, I start and Måns just sits next to me helping me, and he is not talking to the actors or the cameraman. And then the next day we switch, and I am there just to help him with some ideas or just bring him a cup of coffee.

You have worked in Hollywood before, which is all about the spectacle. But is it easy to implement this approach in Europe as well?
 We have been working there, but we are not Americans – we don’t have the same taste as them. But we also don’t have the same taste as all of these traditional European directors. And hopefully, that creates something different. You should never do what everyone else is doing. We grew up in a cold, dark country up north, and we fell in love with cinema because it took us places. That was the thing we wanted: not just to capture reality, but to create a world. 

MM: The big difference between America and Europe is that studio filmmaking is all about business. Film is a product, while in Europe it’s art. But the problem with art is that sometimes it takes itself too seriously. Why does it always have to be all about suffering? We are probably somewhere in the middle. We like the big, shiny stuff that Hollywood has to offer, but we are European, and we can’t get it out of our system.

BS: In Sweden, every new film comments on our reality. It feels like you are sitting in a newsroom. There is nothing wrong with that, but people are too afraid of using their imagination nowadays. We should believe in the power of dreams and fantasy a bit more; that’s where everyone wants to go.

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