Cinema Scandinavia: Why did you choose to cast a theatre actor in Yarden?
Måns Månsson: First and foremost, I thought he was a brilliant actor and he was just someone I could see work very, very well with the film of course. But, you know, more importantly, the rest of the cast is more or less made up of non-professionals, or at least the majority. They have never been in front of the camera before. They’ve never acted anywhere – not even in the theatre or wherever. So, for a Swedish audience, I think the combination of having those non-professionals and an established star with a recognizable face would’ve been too much of a clash. It wouldn’t have worked, really, from my point of view. So, I think it was really a lucky combination to find Anders Mossling; that he was a super pro who had been working in the theatre for years and years in Norway and Denmark. But, he had never really done much in Sweden at all and had never been seen on TV and film before. So, when he sort of merged with these non-professionals, there was still a balance there and I was very happy with that. And, also, he, as the pro that he is, he could be on the level of these first-timers. He could sort adjust himself in order to function with them.
CS: It seems the film fits perfectly our time because we have so many crisis around the world. How did you start? What was the initial point for you? And, when?
MM: I was given this book to read five years ago. It’s a beautiful, poetic, very free-flowing language, but it doesn’t really have any classic narrative or dramatic arc in any sense. It described this incredibly fascinating and scary place called “Yarden”. And, to me it was on many different levels like Sweden was always this proud auto-making nation just like Germany is still but it doesn’t really exist. I mean, Volvo is Chinese and Saab is long gone, and their heritage is over and, instead, this strange parking lot appeared in Malmö, which is actually serving Japanese and Korean cars on their way to Russia because they have to reload and enter new ships because of insurance reasons before they come to the Russian market. So, all we have left of this, you know, long heritage is this parking lot… And then, the idea of this old American cliché like a freedom symbol: the car that you go and do whatever you want and whatever you like, being upheld in this prison-like world or inverted prison almost where people actually want to come or have to come to work and make a living. But, that contrast “freedom-slavery” somehow embedded into this place, was the starting point for me as well as the fact that I considered this had the potential to be incredibly visually striking in film as well. So, from there, we tried to find a way to make the film. But, as we progressed and, especially in the last year, the past six months, seeing how the world not only was changing but how Sweden, in particular, how my own country, was sort of becoming something that I didn’t really recognize. And, many fellow Swedes, you know, were, I think, stunned with what was happening in terms of relating to the refugee crisis. And, all of a sudden, Sweden of all countries is also closing its borders and changing our policies. I think that sort of main question of what we are willing to sacrifice to help other people or the price of solidarity seem to be the number one issue at hand at the moment. It’s very easy to help other people if it doesn’t cost you anything. And, I think, historically, we stood there with our flag claiming to be some kind of social conscience of the world, but we haven’t really been forced to face anything real. We’ve always been protected, in a bubble. And now, all of a sudden, we’ve come to a point where we’re not standing up for all those idealistic ideas anymore. It’s over. We’re just like any other country. It’s on an individual level in the film, of course, but it’s exactly the kind of things that our society or Sweden, as a nation, is going through right now and many other countries, of course.
CS: It seems to me that, somehow, in the film Sweden is trying to “get its country back” from the immigrants.
MM: It’s definitely a movement much like, Pegida in Germany. And, this is, of course, very much present in its own form in Sweden as well, and getting stronger day by day, which is, to me at least, scary. I don’t recognize the country that I sort of grew up in. All of a sudden, we are turning into something else, and you’re asking yourself where the moral compass is in general not only in society but also in friends and family. Also, why is everybody being paranoid and saying things that they didn’t think they could say or think… And, you slowly start to feel that society is changing in a way. The mentality is very quickly and strongly being affected. Very often, these are not people who are evil; it’s just that they’re afraid, being scared, I guess, at the core of it.
CS: But, the question is: Why are they afraid? Nothing really changed. We can buy our milk and our bread in peace. It seems that everything is alright so far.
MM: That’s what I think is fascinating with Yarden as a place, and as this kind of Fort Knox environment – hundreds of millions of Euros just standing there, absurdly, like some kind of cemetery even like a war commentary. All these cars… But, it’s the ultimate symbol of consumer society. The car is a status symbol. And, I mean that’s, in the end, what it’s going to boil down to. It’s also employment; it’s also work. It’s so complex. People need to work. But, is this what we’re all striving for? If we can all buy this car, then everything will be fine… If we can get that flat screen TV… But, you know, even I am the same, I buy a flat screen TV… I should give that to charity; just throw away my flat screen TV… It’s incredibly tricky.
CS: You mentioned that Yarden is a real place. How difficult was it to get the permission to shoot there?
MM: Actually, we didn’t get permission to shoot there. We actually had to come to Bremerhaven and shoot in Germany because it was too sensitive in Malmö. We tried in many places before we ended up in Bremerhaven. If you’re not even allowed to touch the cars and here we come with film cameras and things and then of course, the topic… The issues we were addressing in the film were sensitive for anyone dealing with these things or being in charge of these things.
CS: But, was there some kind of insider who could tell you how the people in Yarden behave? Because, it’s very important that the film looks precise.
MM: Of course. We were able to do a lot of research, do a lot of interviews and the casting process as well. I mean, some of the people in the film are actual former employees who have worked in Yarden as well. We were able to incorporate that. But, at the same time, I don’t claim to have made a documentary in the sense that this is exactly what is going on at a certain specific place. I mean, I honestly have no idea. I’ve collected a lot of research and information and I’ve moulded something that, in a way, is almost science-fiction because of how absurd it is. But, of course, it’s rooted in an existing thing. In the end, it’s fiction, as were Metropolis or Modern Times or On the Waterfront. But, I mean, there are layers.
CS: Why didn’t you opt to shoot the film yourself as you are also a cinematographer?
MM: Last time I tried, I really, really struggled doing cinematography and direction at the same time. It was tricky and it took me four takes sometimes before I could actually listen to the performances. And, I realised I could not do this, especially on a larger scale like this. It’s too complex. I was very fortunate that Ita Zbroniec-Zajt, who’s based in Malmö, was available and could do it. She’s a genius cinematographer from the Łodz Film School in Poland; another future mega star if she continues like this.
German release date: 13th February 2016
Swedish release date: 11th March 2016