A Brighter Outlook – Lukas Moodysson – movieScope
After achieving international acclaim with the crowd-pleasing Show Me Love and Together, Lukas Moodysson plunged into the darkness with Lilya 4-Ever and A Hole in My Heart. In 2009 he made his first English-language film, Mammoth. His latest, We Are the Best!, returns him to the warmer climes of his early hits and his native tongue, with a loose adaptation of his wife Coco’s graphic novel about three young teenage girls who form a punk band in 1982 Stockholm.
Some people claim your relationship with cinema was in crisis after Mammoth. Was it?
No. I am someone who goes in different directions and it felt like a good time to write rather than direct. At the same time I was a little bit bored and a little bit overwhelmed by how difficult it was to make a film, and I felt I was spending too much time away from my children. My father then died in the middle of everything. So I had to write a sad and boring book about that.
You tried writing a screenplay first, didn’t you?
I wrote the script, actually. It was enormously dark and experimental but very low budget, so it would have been quick to make. But I feel that there is a gap, sometimes, between the films I want to make and the films I want to watch, and it didn’t feel like a movie that I would actually pay money to see. I want to see simple comedies.
You seemed to be in a darker place when you made A Hole in My Heart and Lilya 4-Ever. Were those films a reflection of how you felt at the time?
It’s more the opposite. I would say the better I feel, the more I can care about the rest of the world. The bigger burden I feel on myself, the less time I have to think about things like Syria. So sometimes when I feel like the world is such a terrible place and everything is so difficult, is when I feel the need to make something happy.
We Are the Best! is set before the Internet, and one of the characters says she couldn’t live in 1982 because she couldn’t be without her mobile. Are today’s teens more tethered to their parents because of technology?
I’m generalising but I think people a generation ago were better about being alone rather than always relying on the rest of the world to support them. But also the Internet is fantastic. You can be alone in a small town and be the only one who’s gay, or the only one who likes some strange music that no one else likes, and it is easier to find a friend somewhere else in the world and share.
Technology has changed the way people relate to the world, hasn’t it?
Talking about the girls in the film, I think there is a directness in the way they relate to the world that is sometimes missing today. Their gym teacher says they have to run round because they don’t take the basketball game seriously enough, and then they make a song about that. And they walk on the streets and they find some bags with some trash in and they bring it home and have fun with it. They interact more immediately, with no filters. For me that’s inspirational and I think it will be interesting to see what happens when that approach meets a young audience today. If it reaches a young audience; maybe it will just be a movie for people who are nostalgic.
What was your main directorial input with your young cast?
I think it’s difficult to discuss psychology in general, or 1982 in general, but if we start with something that we can touch, it’s easier. When we started to look at the clothes and the haircuts, that was when they realised they were portraying girls who don’t care about looking pretty or cute or sexy, but who want to look tough, or a little bit funny, and dress with humour. That was important for them to understand their characters.
Did it take you long to cast the girls?
It took a long time, not because it was difficult but because I’m a slow person and, unlike some directors, I don’t feel like I can take any actor and transform them into something. I can only support people and create a good environment for them, and push them just a little bit, but they have to do it themselves. So it took a long time to make me feel safe with them.
Is writing female characters a challenge?
Not really. And in this case it was quite simple because I had an expert by my side. I didn’t really have to ask my wife a lot of questions while I was writing the script because I felt I didn’t want to respect her story too much. But then with clothes, for example, and with the casting, I always ask for her advice. Generally I find it easier to relate to women than to men. I think because growing up my biggest role model was my grandmother. I don’t know why. She liked porcelain with pink flowers on. She had a very poor upbringing but then she wanted to pretend she had some kind of class. So it was a little bit like cheating but also trying to make life more not glamorous but a little bit more [pleasant].
You have said before that filmmakers should offer an audience hope. Does this come from her?
I don’t know. But I would say something else today. Hope, yes. But I would also say that the kind of films that are lacking in the world today are actually the most difficult thing to make, which is movies that treat things very, very seriously and with the deepest respect and everything, but at the same time do it in a very happy way. That’s something that we lack today: all the serious matters being treated in a way that says life is actually liveable.
We Are the Best! opens in UK cinemas on April 11, 2014 •