Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson er í viðtali við Nordic Film and TV News um mynd sína Berdreymi, sem nú er sýnd á Berlínarhátíðinni.
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The Icelandic director opens up about his personal film Beautiful Beings which is world premiering this week at the Berlinale’s Panorama.
After is acclaimed debut Heartstone which won more than 40 international awards and was nominated for the 2017 Nordic Council Film Prize, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson returns to the turbulence and formative years of adolescence.
The central character Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason), takes under his protective wing, the bullied boy Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason) who becomes part of Addi’s gang of young violent outcasts, with the loose cannon Konni, nicknamed ‘the animal’ (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson) and Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson).
All come from neglected homes – with either absent or abusing parents – besides Addi, who is raised with his younger sister by his clairvoyant mother (Anita Breim). As the boys get into spiralling acts of violence, Addi experiences a series of visions and premonitory dreams that he uses to guide his friends on a safer track.
The film was produced by Anton Máni Svansson of Iceland’s Join Motion Pictures, in coproduction with Denmark’s Motor Productions, Sweden’s Hobab, Film i Väst, The Netherlands’ Bastide Films and Czech Republic’s Negativ, with support among others from Nordisk Film & TV Fond.
New Europe Film sales handles sales. The domestic release is set for April 2022.
The last time we spoke when you were just starting to develop the project, you said the story is inspired by your own experience. What elements in particular are drawn from your childhood?
Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson: When I write and direct, I’m always inspired by my own experience and surroundings, but it’s a fictional story. That said, when I was younger, I was in a group of boys, and we did use violence, domination as part of our communication. Most of the time, it was done for fun, to get close to each other. On a wider perspective, Icelandic society [in the early 1990s] had real issues with youth violence and substance abuse. I was surprised while researching for this film, that this toxic masculinity and violence among youngsters is still going on, although it has been reduced drastically.
Did you get external advice to help you write the script?
GAG: When I write I always ask advice from people I trust. Here I asked for advice from Rasmus Heisterberg (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Northwest) who gave me great feedback.
The boys come from neglected homes with the exception of Addi the main character who has a loving mother. Can you expand on his environment that makes him the wise boy in his group of outcasts, and the premonitory dreams he has? If I understand, his character is a bit of a younger version of you…
GAG: Yes he is. But in Iceland, it’s quite common and accepted to speak about dreams, the supernatural, and to do fortune telling. For me, it was at a time in my life when I wasn’t behaving the way I should, my intuition got stronger and stronger. I would have nightmares, wake up and think…oh f.ck – I can’t continue like this. That partly helped me find my way and that was an inspiration for the film. I strongly believe that one should follow his/her intuition, especially in those formative years.
The film is also about the importance of parental support and guidance, and how that can influence youngsters and their decision-making. In Heartstone, all families were dysfunctional. In this film, at least one parent [Addi’s mother] is supportive and offers a stable family environment.
How would you describe the relationship between Konni-nicknamed ‘the animal’, and Konni who tries to break free from his friend’s negative influence but can’t?
GAG: Addi is Konni’s reason, his ‘right-hand man’. He tries to keep Konni under control. Konni doesn’t know how to express his feelings and even with his friends, he forces his physical presence on them. The two boys have a kind of a love friendship.
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson makes an impressive performance as the personification of evil and ultimate challenger to the boy’s cycle of violence…
GAG: The violence gradually evolves from bullying, to gang attacks against other kids, then Ólafur is indeed a symbol of ultimate violence-it’s really to show that if you never step out of that path, the end result can only be dramatic.
Could you detail how you alternated violence with moments of respite, when the boys go to the countryside and become one with nature?
GAG: It was important to keep a balance, to show the beauty of friendship, the support the boys give each other, and their sensitivity, against the violence that they are experiencing and that they are responsible for. The countryside is a place where they can let go and be themselves. The moments of respite also come from humour as the kids love teasing each other.
How did you find the four teenage boys who give remarkable performances?
GAG: It’s very hard to get actors from that age group [14-18] in Iceland, so we did an open casting across the country, to catch every kid of that age who was interested in being in the film and ultimately selected those four boys. We spent almost 8 months in preparation, where we introduced them to acting, the characters, the script and did a lot of improv, so that when it was time to be on set, they were fully prepared.
It took a lot of efforts to explain the complexity of the boys’ violent behaviour and the strong bond between them. Viktor Benóný Benediktsson for instance who plays Konni is very intuitive, so he really understood his character and gave us a wonderful performance. It was so good it was tough to cut some scenes in the editing room.
Working with kids is beautiful but also extremely challenging. You really have to support them mentally so they feel secure to give that quality performance.
Your distinct style combines realism and poetry. How did you work with your DoP Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (Another Round) to get the feeling of closeness and spontaneity with the boys?
GAG: The film is quite scripted, but we gave the kids the opportunity to move very freely in the scenes, which gives a realistic feeling. Sturla was like a choreographer, interacting with them. He moved, danced with them, and constantly pushes them.
How complicated was it to bring the dream sequences to life and how was your collaboration with your production designer Hulda Helgadóttir?
GAG: Yes the dream and supernatural scenes were the most complicated, probably because we had never worked with VFX before. A lot of preparation went into them. With Hulda, we made sure the setting would be quite timeless, although the story is set around the late 1990s-early 2000. We had collaborated earlier on Heartstone, so she knew what I liked-we worked in a very organic way. It was part of just having fun as well.
The film reminded me of Rob Reiner’s classic Stand by Me. Was that an inspiration?
GAG: I love this film. When I did the voice over I was thinking of it. I wanted to give a classical feeling with the voice over.
GAG: I thought for a bit that I would do a film for grown-ups after this, because it’s so much easier to direct adults, but again, I just love experiencing the world through the eyes of kids and youngsters. Next time I’d like to do a kids’ fairy-tale. It will be totally original, not based on any existing saga or legend.