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BERLIN 2019 Competition

Hans Petter Moland • Director of Out Stealing Horses

“This story makes you feel like you have been a part of somebody’s life”

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- BERLIN 2019: Cineuropa met up with Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland to discuss Out Stealing Horses, his adaptation of Per Petterson’s acclaimed novel

Hans Petter Moland  • Director of Out Stealing Horses

Back in the Berlinale’s main competition after the 2014 black comedy In Order of Disappearance [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hans Petter Moland
film profile
]
, Hans Petter Moland’s new film, Out Stealing Horses [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hans Petter Moland
film profile
]
, starring Stellan Skarsgård as a sixty-something man who suddenly recognises an acquaintance from his long-forgotten past, is an adaptation of Per Petterson’s novel of the same name. But, as the director puts it, it is a movie that hopefully stands on its own merits. 

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Cineuropa: Starting in 1948, Per Petterson’s novel moves back and forth in time – a bit like memory itself, which is not exactly linear. Was that a struggle?
Hans Petter Moland:
It’s a story that spans 60 years, and it’s definitely not linear. That’s partly what makes this novel work, but it can be challenging in a film. For me, it became more of an issue in terms of rhythm and musicality, unlike with a book, which you are allowed to read at your own pace. These characters have unresolved issues, but they have accepted the limitations placed on them. After all, the most pivotal moments in our lives come in the most mundane circumstances. I normally don’t read novels with the intention of making films out of them, but this one is wonderful and manages to say a lot, also in all the things it leaves out. It’s in the description of the surroundings, of nature and of various details in this man’s life. They are vivid and rich, and give you both a sense of the place and of the character. It makes you feel like you have been a part of somebody’s life. 

Petterson’s dark sense of humour reminded me of your previous films. Did you try to involve him in the process?
Per decided to stay away. He was preoccupied with who was going to make it: I told him how I wanted to do it, and I think he liked that. It’s a novel that you need to respect – or at least some of its qualities, like this very organic structure and a certain atmosphere. Those were the things I was able to use as guidelines. But it wouldn’t benefit the audience, or anybody else, for that matter, to be a slave to the novel. First and foremost, you have to make a good film. Also, I wouldn’t be able to tell you where the novel ends and the film begins. With good novels, I never remember who got the money or the girl. I doubt that people will even notice what I decided to leave out.

Every time I happen to talk to Stellan Skarsgård, we start with his new film and we end up on yours. How does your relationship work?
First of all, we have a lot of fun together. When you are making movies, you have to be prepared to experiment and make mistakes. To do that with someone you can trust and who is not afraid of failure is an important aspect. Stellan is a very generous man. You’ve talked to him, so you know he is very down to earth, but he also strives for excellence. And he makes others want to achieve it as well.

I don’t think I am unique in this respect, but whenever you work with someone who is truly talented, and Stellan certainly is, you want to expand the relationship. I have several other actors I have been working with for years, like Bjørn Floberg and Gard B Eidsvold, for example – they were together in Aberdeen and A Somewhat Gentle Man [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hans Petter Moland
film profile
]
, and now they are acting here. It’s almost like a repertory theatre! With films, there is enough pressure as it is, and when you inject some playfulness, it usually contributes to getting a better result. In Iceland, they call a director leikstjóri, which literally means “a game master”. It’s a very charming way to describe what this job is about.

Still, you don’t let them play around much with the dialogue. It’s a film that revels in silence.
There is certainly much more dialogue in my American films [laughs]. Later on in life, I realised that my soul is Norwegian. When depicting human beings, their physicality is completely undervalued. But we often hide our feelings when we talk – we try to conceal our emotions with eloquence. So even though there is little dialogue, there is a lot of physical expression. Danica Curcic has three lines in the entire movie, but she is a pivotal presence. The strength of this character lies mostly in the choices that are not explained. 

When In Order of Disappearance was in the main competition at Berlin, many were surprised. This is certainly a much more festival-friendly proposition.
I reject the idea that there is one “type” of film that belongs to a festival. They should all be original and made with love, and have something to say. That’s why we have festivals, to bring new perspectives and new ways of telling the story. When Pulp Fiction premiered at Cannes, it was refreshing. But there was probably someone who said: “What is that?!” In the case of my films, Berlin offered me a window to the world. It gave them a life outside of Norway and exposure they would never have got otherwise, so I am excited to be back. Out Stealing Horses is a radically different movie from Pulp Fiction, but I just hope it’s unique. That would be nice.

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