The Swedish film-maker talks to Screen about his first digital film, Truth & Consequence, and how he has no plans to retire at age 80
Octogenarian Swedish director Jan Troell probes an uncomfortable subject for the Swedes — their neutrality during the Second World War and their failure to stand against Hitler — in his new feature Truth & Consequence.
The drama, being sold at Berlin’s European Film Market by TrustNordisk, tells the true story of Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), a leading Swedish journalist and newspaper editor who had the courage to speak out against the Nazis.
Troell, born in 1931, was eight years old when the war began. He was living with his parents and two brothers on the southern coast of Sweden, opposite Copenhagen. “We had some experience of the guns shooting at night when the English bombers flew from Copenhagen back over Malmo,” the director recalls. “My parents were pro-English, definitely.”
Troell, whose past films include Berlinale 1968 Golden Bear winner Who Saw Him Die? and Oscar-nominated The Emigrants and The Flight Of The Eagle, admits that after completing the acclaimed Everlasting Moments in 2008, he did not know if he would ever direct another feature.
Kenne Fant, who had written a book about Segerstedt, asked Troell if he was interested in making a movie about the subject. Troell was curious. He did not know much about the journalist himself but people close to him did.
When Troell read a book by Segerstedt’s secretary Estrid Ancker, he finally found his way into telling the story. “Obviously [Ancker] was in love with him all the time,” the director suggests. Troell was increasingly drawn to the moral and emotional complexity of Segerstedt’s story. He was a hero but had a messy private life.
“I was fascinated by Segerstedt’s love life and his complicated nature,” the director reflects. “That made me much more keen to do the film. You could say it’s a chamber play with a very big background — the war and all that.”
Segerstedt had been in a deep depression in the early 1930s. Ironically, Hitler “was a saviour to him anyway. Segerstedt got something to concentrate all his powers — he got an enemy. He despised and hated all that Hitler stood for. As he was a newspaper man with a pen for a weapon, he used that from the first day.”
The Nazis were quick to try to quash the insubordinate journalist. Goering sent a telegram to Segerstedt’s newspaper, threatening him. Readers, many of them pro-Nazi, also complained. As the war moved closer to Sweden, the government — keen to maintain its neutrality — was increasingly anxious about his writing.
The director initially considered casting his frequent collaborator Max von Sydow to play the lead, but decided he needed a younger actor. Jesper Christensen (who also appeared in Everlasting Moments) may be Danish but the director decided he was right. “I couldn’t get his image out of my brain,” Troell remembers. “I couldn’t think of anyone else I would have liked more to do the part.” The Swedes, he reckoned, would accept Christensen. “And internationally, it doesn’t matter at all because no-one can hear the difference [in accents].”
Truth & Consequence — Troell’s first film to be shot digitally — was complicated to finance, with about 25 partners involved. It was made through Filmlance International and produced by Lars Blomgren and Francy Suntinger. The Swedish release is set for the autumn.
And, no, Troell is not quite ready to retire yet. One project he dreams of making is an autobiographical drama exploring his family’s relationship with the maids who worked for them over the years. “Some meant a great deal to me when I grew up… that’s one subject that I’d still like to do,” Troell says. “My wife and daughter love this subject… they’re pushing me to do that film. We’ll see what happens. I’ll have to try to keep alive!”
- Troell’s second feature, 1968’s Who Saw Him Die?, won Berlin’s Golden Bear.
- His work in the 1970s included five-time Oscar-nominated The Emigrants (1971) and its follow-up The New Land (1972).
- Troell’s Hollywood career included Zandy’s Bride and Hurricane.
- 1982’s The Flight Of The Eagle was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar.
- Everlasting Moments (2008), his most recent film, was shortlisted for the foreign-language Oscar, nominated for a Golden Globe and won several Guldbagges.