Hallstrom, a Swede in Hollywood

What possible relationship could ABBA have with the Oscars and Hollywood? The connecting link is Lasse Hallstrom, the 56-year-old Swedish director whose career took quite a different turn when he directed «ABBA: The Movie» in 1977, and ended up in Hollywood making blockbuster movies. Hallstrom had been directing films and television serials in Sweden for two decades, yet became famous in 1985 with the Swedish film «My Life as a Dog,» which won him Oscar nominations for direction and screenplay. It is extremely rare for a foreign-language film to receive Oscar nominations in major categories. Hallstrom did not win the awards, but it did put him in a position to make the studios pay attention to him and to produce larger-scale movies, oriented to a wider audience. This was followed in 1991 by «Once Around» with Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter; «What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?» in 1993, with Johnny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio (in practically his first film role), and «Something to Talk About» in 1995, with Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid. In the past few years he has combined mainstream cinema with his own personal directing eye, and an interest in tender, human stories. These more recent films include «The Cider House Rules,» «Chocolat,» and this year’s movie «The Shipping News,» all of which have been produced by Miramax. The first two films were popular with audiences, although without making any particular splash. For «The Shipping News,» Hallstrom adapted the best-selling novel by E. Annie Proulx, gathering together a brilliant cast (Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judy Dench, Cate Blanchett) to tell a story of human desperation and maturity. Quoyle is a young man with «failure» written all over him. Through a series of events, he discovers that he too has a right to happiness. Kathimerini spoke with Lasse Hallstrom a few days before he traveled from New York for the 52nd Berlin Film Festival, where «The Shipping News» was competing. What do you expect will happen in Europe? I hope that the film will be even more successful with European audiences; it’s far closer to a European mentality. I’ve seen «The Shipping News» with an American audience and then I saw it with a European audience at a screening for the British Academy, where it came home to me that it has a far more European aesthetic. Were you disappointed by the (lukewarm) reviews that it received in America? The reviews were, in the majority, positive. Even so, the greatest reward is for the audience to like it, when you see that the audience is being entertained and that they can discover some things about themselves in your film. There were also some reviews which weren’t so good. What can we do? When the reviews are not good, do you believe that this is because the reviewer has a mistaken conception of the film? I don’t know what the reason might be. They might not like the film. The same thing happened with «Chocolat,» which I believe was a successful film. Some reviewers might want to create a stir, but I hope that they will just see the film for what it is. Tell us about «The Shipping News.» It’s the portrait of this man, Quoyle, who is searching for his roots, and at the same time manages to overcome his fears. Through this journey, he discovers that he has the ability to live and to love. I read this book 11 years ago and found the mixture of different elements and the combination of emotions very interesting. I believed that it would make a very good movie and for years was obsessed with the idea of turning it into a film. I managed to get my first choices for the actors, and am very proud of the results. How important is it to remain true to the book? Sometimes whole scenes need to be reconstructed, just as John Irving did when he himself adapted his own book for «The Cider House Rules.» What’s important is to retain the truth of the book, but you often have to be disrespectful to your source in order for the story to work as cinema. We must understand that it’s a completely different medium. An adventurous life A while has passed since you left Europe. Do you still consider yourself a European filmmaker? Yes, completely. I feel like a visitor in America, that I’m living an adventure that could come to an end, and I don’t think that I’ve been sucked into the studio system. I’ve had the opportunity to make films exactly as I wanted. My experience in America has helped my career, and I’m making my best films here. Now I believe that I could just as easily make a studio film as a small production in Sweden. Your films are often promoted by the studios for various awards. Do you feel nervous around the time of award ceremonies? It’s not something I do consciously. Sure, it might be at the back of my mind. My last three films were released in America in December, when the deadline for Oscar nominations is about to run out, and it’s to be expected that a studio would hope for a strong commendation from the critics’ unions at the Academy Awards as well. I wouldn’t want to come under the same pressure with my next work as well.

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