P.O.V. No.19 - NATAN

An interview with Jonas Holmström on Natan

Richard Raskin

I understand that your original idea for the story evolved quite a bit as work on the project proceeded. Can you tell me roughly what the original storyline was, in contrast to what you finally filmed?

It's an interesting question. I have answered it many times. And I have always said that we knew the storyline up to the moment when Natan and Viggo arrived at the woman's place to buy the pet. Maybe not step-by-step, but as a map to follow. After that point we didn't know what would happen. But we were sure that there would be some kind of meeting between the woman and Natan. We wanted Natan to emerge as the "winner", but not some kind of hero. Not in a way that has to do with strength or success in the usual sense. We also knew that Kerstin, who played the Sabina, and Tomas (Natan) had a connection. Sharing something sensitive and wise. The same world. It's hard to explain. So my recollection is that we didn't know more than that. And that we wanted to explore the organic, improvised story from that point. Trusting that the story and the ending would surface.

But here's something interesting: Two weeks ago our producer, Carina Ekman, showed me the non-finished short story by Jonas B, that was the original idea for the storyline. It was about an insecure man, who was going to buy a dog and asked a friend for a ride. He wanted somebody to lean on, since he was afraid that the pet wouldn't like him. When I read it, I was surprised that so many details were written. Sabina asking if they lived together. (In the short story: "Are you gay?") Natan escaping to the forest is another example. I asked Jonas B if he was aware of this when we filmed. If he had consciously guided everything in a secret and sublime way. He told me, he was not. I was definitely not aware of the original story. But I believe it lingered with us in some unconscious way.

I also understand that there were a lot of discussions as to how the film should end. What were the other endings you considered, and why did you finally decide to go with the one now in the film?

When we finished shooting we were not sure if we had managed to catch an ending on the tapes. The third and last day the actors started to get tired or impatient, so we understood that we couldn't go on one more day. We had to trust that we had an ending - but we didn't know what it looked like.

During the shoot, we tried this idea: Sabina saw that Natan was some kind of healer, and that he was helping Viggo to calm down, by some kind of "hands on" treatment. What's left in the film is when Sabina tells Natan that he has "good hands and that he is good with animals and people too".

When cutting the film, we saw another meaning to that line. We also tried to let Viggo stay over for the night. I think that we wanted Viggo to "come home" too. We filmed a sequence where Natan and Viggo were sleeping in the same room, and Sabina entered to wish them a good night's sleep. It looked like some kind of children's TV-program. We saw pretty quickly that these endings were no good at all.

I remember discussing that what we wanted was for Natan to make a decision of his own. Which is what happens when he accepts Sabina's invitation to stay over for the night. Going against Viggo's will. To Natan this is his big change, taking control. So he would end up little bit different too.

One of the most striking qualities of Natan is the fact that the main character is a relatively weak person. Generally in short films, the character whose story is told knows exactly what he or she wants and how to get it. In your film, two other characters - Viggo and Sabina - are much stronger and more capable people. With respect to narrative conventions, your film shouldn't work at all - and yet it does. Were you aware of this issue during work on the film? And how do you explain that your film works so well with a relatively weak character at its center?

I was not aware of that "issue" when we made the film. I've heard of that theory and I can't say if I believe in it or not. We were not conscious about rules and structure when we made Natan. We were just very curious to see these characters in action. Playing against each other in the various situations. And of course we believed in the potential of the story!

Why does the film work with a weak main character? Maybe it's because there is another motor than the main character. The motor is Viggo. But I'm not sure.

I can't explain these things. The only thing that I know for sure, is that we were looking for life. That energy that penetrates your stomach and heart. When filming and when editing. I believe it was a non-intellectual work, from beginning to end.

Others have told us what the film is about or what makes it work!

In my ears, the name Natan sounds Jewish. But maybe in the Swedish context, it is just an ordinary name like any other. Or is it?

Yes, I agree it sounds Jewish. But that isn't anything we thought about.

It's not very common to be named Natan in Sweden. I don't know anyone with that name. But I suppose it's just an ordinary name all the same, only not so popular these days. I know of a few older men with that name.

Why the name of our main character became Natan is very spontaneous as usual. At first we called him Tony. But when Rolf Karlsson (playing the part of Viggo) heard that, he didn't like it.

- No it should be Natan, he looks like a Natan! he said.

And it just felt right for us too! We asked Tomas and it was ok with him! It was also important that Rolf like the name since he was the one who would be saying it, over and over, throughout the story.

Rolf chose the name Viggo for his own role and that is also how we usually name our characters. They pick their names themselves. We believe that they feel more comfortable then, and it's also easier for them to remember.

Is there any advice you would give student production groups about to make their own first short films?

Trust your own ideas and just do them. Try them just for fun! Discuss your ideas in the group first. Before you write anything. Don't sit alone and work too long on "the perfect script". I think that filmmakers are in shooting situations far too seldom. Compared to the writing and planning part.

It's a growing experience to film. It's so developing for storytelling, the writing part. There's a big risk that the script becomes far too important. That you work on it as if it was the final work of art. It's not.

Use your friends as actors and use nearby locations. Choose stories that are close to your own life.

Have fun! Don't let filmmaking become too serious!

3 December 2004

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