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TORONTO 2021 Special Presentations

Bent Hamer • Director of The Middle Man

“The human aspect of the story always has to be there to attract me”

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- The Norwegian filmmaker talked to Cineuropa about his new film and how it explores human dynamics within communities when bad news need to be shared

Bent Hamer • Director of The Middle Man

Frank Farrelli is the eponymous Middle Man [+see also:
trailer
interview: Bent Hamer
film profile
]
working in the God-forsaken town of Karmack, USA, a community in a depression so deep that they need to employ someone to communicate bad news to its long-suffering citizens. The Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer couldn’t attend the world premiere of his new film in person in Toronto, so he chatted to Cineuropa via zoom.

Cineuropa: How was it for you to have a world premiere that you could not attend?
Bent Hamer:
Yeah, it's a good question as I have no experience with that, actually. So it was my first time. I'm very happy that the main actor, some of the other actors and the crew from Canada attended, at least. But it was a strange feeling. I was trying to comfort myself in my greenhouse while I knew what was going on in Toronto. It was a sad feeling. The emotional part of being together with people, I didn't get that.

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It turns out the Middle Man can be so many things, a stand-in for a cell phone, a messenger, or maybe something else. How did you see him?
Well, yeah, what is it all about? I mean, when I first read the novel, I was attracted by this view upon the world, where people are struggling, which is true today all over but here it gave a perspective seen from a small town in the US in the rust belt, kind of pre-Trump as it was written in 2012. It is so up to date, in a way. Of course, that background was interesting to me. But then you have all the humour, the human aspect of the story, which always has to be there in some way to attract me. But really, I also still don't know who this guy is. It's a kind of mystery to stay in this town, but maybe it's harder to leave it. It could be anyone trying to land a job, trying to get out of the house living with his mother. It's a similar story in Spain and Italy with such high unemployment. It's also who we are, and how are we dealing with these problems?

Watching the film, you think of the American service military, the idea of ‘don't shoot the messenger.’ There is this whole idea in human history that delivering bad news has to happen in person. Is this part of that, or is that not so true in the digital age?
I know a lady who is a priest in a church in Oslo, and she grew up with my wife. She read the script quite early, and I asked her these questions, and it's a huge discussion because we don't hear it in newspapers or publicly. Who is the one to deliver this bad message: is it the priest? Or the police? Or a psychologist? Or friends? Or relatives? There are no rules. When I talked to her some more, the question became "who gets paid for it?" That's the formal part of it, which is also discussed but not something you do publicly. It's more about the grief. People still do that. You never know who will knock on your door.

The film also feels like a dream, with its abstract, quirky quality.
They also killed dream interpreters in the old days if they didn't come up with the right dream. I started off by saying that this is up to date, and the story is happening today, but on the other hand, I always hope that my films will have a certain timeless quality. There is one mobile phone in the film, and in a way, I don't like it.

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