The Icelandic director Marteinn Thorsson is in Karlovy Vary with the international premiere of his film XL in Competition.
The film is a challenging drama/black comedy showing alcoholic politician Leifur (Olafur Darri Olafsson) who throws a wild party before he is sent to rehab by the Prime Minister. Thorsson co-wrote the script with Gudmundur Oskarsson.
The director previously made One Point O (with Jeff Renfroe) and Rokland after he studied film at Toronto’s Ryerson University and graduated with the film Diary of an Assassin.
The topic hit close to home for him. “There are a lot of alcoholics in Iceland. Films about alcoholism have been done before, but I wanted to get inside his head, to shoot it as a state of mind. I’ve been there myself. It also wanted to make it a parable on corruption and loss of ethics. Looking at people in power and the world view they might have.”
“It’s a difficult film to watch, because we’re in the time zone of an alcoholic,” the director adds. “There are constant deja vus and memory gaps. Part of it is that he’s living a lie and you don’t know what’s true and what’s not true. The world view is skewed - it’s not what’s normal people deal with in their daily lives.”
As one can imagine, the response in Iceland has been mixed. “I’ve had old friends who haven’t spoken to me since then, they were shocked,” Thorsson says of the debauched scenes on screen.
Yet the character of Leifur is not without some charm, thanks in part to the strong performance of Olafsson (best known to international audiences from Baltasar Kormakur’s The Deep.) “He has gravitas and charm and power. He has a great gut, in both the physical and emotional sense,” the director says of the actor, who he has now worked with three times. Of the character, he adds: “He’s not supposed to be sympathetic but you can empathise with him in his moments of despair. You have to show him vulnerable. That’s how human beings are.”
The style of working grew out of 2010 short Permille, of which he says: “I was itching to do something with digital cameras, I wanted to see if I could make a film and finish it at home and still show it in theatres. It was a fun little film and it ended up playing at festivals.”
For XL, a small crew shot the film during a “pretty frenetic” 17 day shoot, using two Canon 5Ds. They experimented with new visual styles. “I didn’t want to do a lot of post manipulation, so we did it with optics. We would hold the lenses slightly skewed from the camera. It’s a pretty accurate representation of somebody trying to relive a blackout.”
The pace of the shoot is reflected on screen. “We shot very fast, I wanted that energy, it was like a burst of really exciting and enthusiastic energy and that shows in the film,” he adds.
Thorsson and Oskarsson’s own Tenderlee Motion Pictures Company produced, with Stor &Sma co-producing and support from the Icelandic Film Centre.
The director’s next projects include an adaptation of Gudrun Eva Minervudottir’s novel YOSOY, plus sci-fi film Protos.
YOSOY is about a doctor of pain who is researching a group of people in a circus/theatre troupe who push themselves to the limit. It’s also a love story as he falls in love with the lead performer. Jon Atli Jonasson, who co-wrote The Deep, is working on the script and the project could potentially shoot in Denmark.
Protos is set in a futuristic Iceland, where the country has been turned into a geothermal plant and a place where convicts are kept.
Above all, Thorsson wants to keep making personal, creative projects. “Ted Hope, Spielberg and Lucas, they are saying that this whole model is going to crash. We need more personal art. We need to get it out to people,” Thorsson says. “Those people handing out the public money have to hand it out to people with creative vision and take risks. And not like Syd Field guidebook to tell you that you need a plot point on page 18 or your film is going to suck. It’s a deterrent to creative art.”