Our June TMFF Film of the Month comes from Sweden, and presents us with a difficult moral choice between personal and professional conviction. A Swedish Defense is directed by Simon Elvås, who was kind enough to take some time for a chat with us.
JL: Congrats on your great achievement, Simon! The jury really enjoyed A Swedish Defense – has it so far been receiving the praise you expected, across festivals and competitions?
SE: Thank you! Wonderful that you liked it! TMFF is actually one of the first festivals we send it to, so we’re in the beginning of meeting both festivals and audiences since it hasn’t had its premiere yet. We did however have some test screenings with the finished film and got a lot of great reactions. Both film and subject seem to ignite a lot of discussion which definitely was our goal.
JL: Tell us a little about the title – what makes this case inherently Swedish?
SE: Well, Sweden has in recent years been known for its big intake of refugees from war zones. We gladly see ourselves as humane and as a helping country that isn’t afraid to verbally stand up to oppression. But at the same time, we’re one of the world’s biggest weapon exporters per capita, and we also sell weapons to the very same wars that our politicians are openly disputing. I believe this is a classic Swedish phenomenon, that we think very highly of ourselves, but rarely see our own responsibility in the larger picture.
JL: We have a really difficult moral dilemma in the film, one that goes far beyond the case study we see here. What would you say the main thematic takeaway would be?
SE: I’d say the biggest thematic question that I myself is trying to figure out through this movie is how it’s possible to play two roles at the same time, how a father can be a loving parent who is proud that his daughter stands up for what she thinks is right, but at the same time, sell weapons to countries that he clearly sees aren’t following the values he’s trying to raise his daughter with. Is it possible to be both of those roles at the same time? Well, Sweden often tries to. That’s something I hope the audience can reflect upon.
JL: How much more difficult is it to take such stringent critique from a loved one, and how does it affect the engineer in A Swedish Defense?
SE: I think having a daughter criticizing your work creates a lot of mixed emotions, of course you always want support from your children, but it’s extra harsh when it’s about work because in a way you’re doing it for them. His daughter’s life is dependent on his work and she can’t hide from that as well. But I think most of us can get this feeling of exhaustiveness when having political discussions with teenagers, the world’s problems are often not so easily solved as they tend to view them. Still, I think we should listen to what the teenagers are saying right now. As you grow older it seems to be harder to believe it’s possible for change, this is super dangerous I think, and this is why we need to listen to the younger generation. They might not know how to get there but at least they have hope for something much better.
JL: You also won our Best Director prize this month, congratulations! What was the key element in putting Theodor’s screenplay in visual form?
SE: Yes, that’s so nice, thank you! We really struggled with the aspect of comedy. I’m more used to making dramas and Theodor Österberg is an amazing comedy writer who finds quirkiness in every situation, so we tried to mix our styles and found this love for awkwardness and big misunderstandings. That was the key! And then the military drums of course made a big puzzle piece into what rhythm the story was going to be told. Our composer Adam Bejstam made really early temptracks, even before the shooting, and that was a great thing to have when creating the visual concept with my cinematographer Filip Stanković.
JL: Torkel Petersson really makes the project come alive, with his nuanced portrayal of the moral struggle on display. How did you experience working with him?
SE: It was wonderful and very rewarding working with Torkel and all the other experienced actors that played in the movie. Torkel is a joy to look at, I’m always wondering what’s going on inside his head and he really tries to make every situation as interesting as possible. We had many discussions about the subject and it’s something he also cares about so we both wanted this movie to be great and we pushed each other a lot throughout the process. Sometimes it was super hard but in the end i think it’s all shown in the product. I’m very happy to have Torkel in this movie.
JL: Did the pandemic and lockdown give you some quiet time at home for writing new projects? Or has it changed your approach to filmmaking in any way?
SE: Well, I have to say, making this particular film during the pandemic was such a huge challenge, especially for the production team. I guess I learned a lot about patience and not to panic when plans get cancelled last minute, because by always moving forward, you tend to find solutions to most problems, and it helps having a great team to rely on. Having a lot of support in the team really is the key to filmmaking in hard situations, and in this film, I really got to work with a lot of talented people.
JL: Are you currently working on any other projects at the moment, or are you concentrating all efforts on marketing A Swedish Defense?
SE: I have my brilliant producer Jimm Garbis who’s taking the lead in marketing the movie so right now I’m back in the writing process, working on story structure for two features I hope to write during this year. One of them is continuing this subject with the arms deal and the Swedish dilemma between a daughter and father, but this time the story is situated in another country where a military coup suddenly takes place and changes the family dynamic even greater.
JL: Thanks for your time, Simon. Whenever you have another project to showcase don’t hesitate to run it by us!
SE: Will do! Thank you again for appreciating and recognizing our film!