Jonas Alexander Arnby • Director of Suicide Tourist
“I wanted to make a film about love”
by Marta Bałaga
- Cineuropa spoke to Danish director Jonas Alexander Arnby during a walk around Copenhagen to discuss the Zurich- and Sitges-screened Suicide Tourist
Fresh off showings at the Zurich Film Festival and Sitges, Suicide Tourist [+see also:
interview: Jonas Alexander Arnby
film profile] sees Max (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) keeping life-changing secrets from his partner (Tuva Novotny) and discovering an unusual place while searching for a client: the remote Aurora Hotel, which offers something other than free breakfast. We spoke to the movie’s director, Jonas Alexander Arnby.
Cineuropa: What was most surprising about the film is its modesty, so to speak. Everything is so understated, from Nikolaj’s performance to the way the story develops.
Jonas Alexander Arnby: It’s about many things, but it’s also about a man who tries to control everything in his life – even his exit, if you will. That’s why he makes the decision to go to this hotel. With Max, his expressions needed to be very minimalistic, but once you translate it to normal human behaviour, it means a hell of a lot more. This whole need for control also manifests itself in him having this neat moustache, steel frames that fit him just perfectly and an impeccable hairdo. You couldn’t have a guy with two-day-old stubble. So yes, I took the liberty of changing Nikolaj a bit [laughs]. Already in my first film, When Animals Dream [+see also:
interview: Jonas Alexander Arnby
film profile], there was a lot of reading between the lines. That’s when the real story begins to unfold.
I am glad you brought up that title because it seems as though you take all of these genre tropes and, instead of going over the top, you pull back. Why?
With that one, when you are looking at it from a genre perspective, I was making a werewolf movie. But I don’t even like them that much! Or, rather, I was thinking: “How the hell am I going to make a relevant werewolf movie? One where everything is motived by psychology and emotion, with the kind of werewolves that interest me?” Now, I just wanted to make a film about love. Life, too, but mainly love, which was frightening. I didn’t know how to do it! I am sure that my next one will be about something I find just as difficult.
You don’t expect it to be a love story, and yet it’s one of the most touching I have seen in a very long time.
It kind of leads me back to what I said before, because how do you create a scene between two people that says a lot without actually saying too much? In the kinds of films I want to make, there shouldn’t be too many exact answers; it’s better to spark one’s curiosity. What was difficult was to have these two people facing different dilemmas, sitting in front of each other. Making it understated but still engaging. You can have a guy swimming in a frozen lake or running down the stairs, but these are just film-school techniques. It comes down to something very basic, which is the emotional side of it all.
This whole idea of “euthanasia tourism” is still controversial, so apart from discussing the storyline, people are bound to talk about that as well. Were you wary of that?
It’s important, but I don’t think it’s that important for this film. I was trying to make it more about life. Or love, human tragedy or control – not about assisted suicide at all. This hotel obviously doesn’t exist, and I use it as a dramatic tool. Of course I knew these questions would arise, but most of the people I talked to seemed to understand it’s not the main topic.
I know Nikolaj, and I was hoping that he would find it interesting, too, getting to play a character that’s completely different from anything else he has done. I never approached anyone else. As soon as the first draft was done, Nikolaj, Rasmus [Birch] and I became one living organism. He was involved from an early stage, so it wasn’t like he was just given the script and said yes. We were very clear about what kind of person Max is, but Nikolaj brought all these “gifts” to the role that made him complete.
Having this film shown at Zurich Film Festival, and then Sitges, actually makes sense. Do you think you will keep on trying to combine all of that, the best of both worlds?
Sitges is a special place, as that’s where I showed my first film. People tend to think that the genre audience is narrow-minded, but actually, they are the ones with the broadest taste in film. I have a soft spot for genre, for all of these fantastic elements. I think you can get some amazing tools from these movies to make your story more intriguing. Not to sound like I invented something very clever, but you have this small arena, and you place your characters there, creating an environment that becomes a visual concept. And you need to wear a certain type of glasses to watch it. I want to put them on the audience – not having them see everyday life. That’s not what I am about. When I see two guys walking down the street on the screen, I don’t want to be reminded to pick up my kids from nursery. You should be emotionally attached, but there should be some distance. That’s the balance I am interested in.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.