Hit the north

Bille August’s The Best Intentions had a screenwriter with something ofa reputation, as Trevor Johnston learns from the award-winning Danish director.

‘Thrilled. excited. even honoured‘ was the reaction Bille August had to a phone call from the Swedish screen legend Ingmar Bergman. 'l'he retired master had been sufficiently impressed by August‘s Palme D‘Or and Oscar-winning l’elle The Conqueror to invite the acclaimed Dane to direct Bergman's screenplay The Best Intentions. ; The film duly picked up the Palme D'Or at Cannes: this May and Bergman‘s confidence was justified. ‘I flew to Stockholm to meet him.‘ says August. ‘and he explained that he was the screenwriter and i I was the director so all the final decisions would be: down to me. lwas very happy about that because I i don't really think at this stage I could be anyone's assistant anymore. Like all crazy people I have a way ofworking where I just follow my own , intuition.‘ i Explaining how the 74-year-old Bergman i wanted to come terms with who he was and where he came from. August says. ‘1 le wanted to explore l his parents‘ own marital relationship even though he knew only a few facts about their background. i

‘Scandinavians in general have this terribly deep-rooted Protestant sense at i guilt and sin. Perhaps you understand this i in Scotland too.’ i


so you have to remember that it‘s mostly a fiction written by the master of manipulation. It‘s not a documentary. it‘s a complex love story.‘

Concurrently shot in both six-hour format for television and in a three-hour cinema version. August‘s film follows the fortunes ofthc future Mr I and Mrs Bergman. Spoilt yet well-meaning city i girl Anna Akcrblom (played by the director‘s wife Pernilla August) and bluff country-born theology ! student Henrik B (Samuel Frohler) run into stern opposition from her well-to-do parents (Max Von } Sydow and Ghita Norby. both outstanding). Even i after tying the marital knot. their troubles aren‘t 1 over as a series of unfortunate events drive a wedge between the newlyweds.

The end result. although beautifully shot and flawlessly acted. is perhaps a film to admire rather than take to your hearts. For August. however. the chill wind of melancholy that swirls throughout The Best Intentions provides a real insight into the gloomy Nordic character. ‘With Pelle and again with The Best Intentions I‘ve been very interested in getting to grips with Scandinavian cultural identity,‘ he explains. ‘I think a lot of it has to do with our extreme changes of season. We have long

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dark winters where people feel very isolated. and very sunny. warm summers when we tend to let our feelings out. But it‘s not just down to the climate. Scandinavians in general have this terribly deep-rooted Protestant sense ofguilt and sin. Perhaps you understand this in Scotland too because you‘re on the edge of things like we are. but it all goes to create a very strong national identity.‘

August reckons it‘s precisely this sense ofa film confident in its own cultural make-up which accounts for the huge success of his last two projects. "l‘hey have a natural language. an expression. an honesty. Whether it's in music or painting or movies. as soon as a work of art has that identity it becomes interesting. Only then does it beeome international."

August’s Scandinavian background is so


important to him that it’s the first thing he mentions when he is pressed on future plans and the big American money behind his adaptation of Isabel Allende’s Home (If The .S'pt'rt'ts. ‘It's important never to be dependent on llollywood.‘ he stresses. ‘So many of my colleagues went over there to make movies and they spend all their time just waiting and waiting to work. Spend a few days over there and you start to talk only about box office and who‘s meeting who and what .so-and-so‘s last picture cost. You become a different person. so the day you cut your own national roots is the day you've lost it. Asa Hollywood person your identity and integrity are gone.‘

Best Intentions opens at I'ftIitt/tttt'glt ( .(IHH’i’) on Friday I 7Jttly.