Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s latest black comedy thriller In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten) opens in the UK this weekend.
STARBURST caught up with the director at the Edinburgh Film Festival to find out more about his twisted revenge story…
STARBURST: In Order of Disappearance marks your fourth collaboration with Stellan Skarsgård. How has your relationship developed over the years?
Hans Petter Moland: It went from total admiration to friendship. I saw him in a TV series when he was a child; a sort of Huckleberry Finn story in Sweden where he was 13 or 14 years old. He was already a star when I worked with him the first time, when I asked him to be in Zero Kelvin and we found out that we really enjoyed bringing material together.
The story is quite multi-faceted, containing aspects of vengeance flicks, black comedies, action, crime, family drama, and even absurdist humour. Were they all incorporated with the intent to defy categorisation?
Yes, absolutely. My ambition on this film was not to be restrained by genre or limitation.
With such a wide scope of content, did you take inspiration from different places for the film’s story?
Not really. It was an ambition to explore a theme and allow the humour and the absurdity to be seen alongside the tragedy. For instance, when Stellan is about to shoot himself, as an audience, you should believe that he’s capable of it, and therein lies the suspense. There’s a sadness to it as well, because this is a man who’s just lost his son.
Was it difficult achieving a balance between the humour, the sadness and the violence?
It was in one way because it feels like uncharted territory. You have to trust your instincts and believe that it will work because there’s no formula to reassure you that it will. It becomes an ongoing exploration, which I find part of the fun of making films.
Each character’s demise in the film is marked by a screen of their name and religion, as if they were official death notifications. What made you decide to do this?
We’re so used to seeing people die in films, we don’t think twice about it, we don’t think of it as human beings losing their lives and vanishing from the face of the earth. I always thought it far more interesting to make people’s deaths be significant as opposed to just clichés. Even though some of them are bad people, and their lives are taken without much sorrow, they’re still human beings and they deserve a moment of silence, but also without losing the comedy of the situation. It allows then to die in undignified manners, but at the same time still marking their death.
The religious symbols shown are primarily Christian and Serbian Orthodox, but there were a couple of others, including the climactic one that many people may not recognise. What did that one mean (assuming this doesn’t give away that character’s identity)?
There is also a Jewish guy, the good-looking dude in the Count’s gang who ends up in a pile of white powder, so he is given the Star of David. The one you mention is the Society of Human Virtues, who are non-Christian but want to be considered an ethical society with all the associated virtues of humanitarian living.
Although Norway in winter makes for a beautiful landscape, it can’t be easy filming in such conditions. How much of a technical challenge was it, and did you incorporate anything learned while making Zero Kelvin?
Absolutely; I wouldn’t say there’s an art to shooting in the snow, but there’s certainly a skill to it. Having grown up in Norway and having messed around outside since I was a toddler helped, because you learn about the various kinds of snow conditions. You have to accept the fact that when you’re shooting in conditions like this things might slow down. At 25 below, the muscles in actors’ faces become stiff! You have to make your own infrastructure; you can’t just throw resources at it, you need skills as well.
The Norwegian title of the film, Kraftidioten, roughly translates to The Prize Idiot. What does this refer to?
Stellan’s character is a virtuous man; he’s somebody who considers himself not only civilised, but also recognised by his fellow man for it. So it’s a fable about somebody who, in a symbolic way, does what most of us aspire to, which is to spread a little bit of humanity around ourselves in our daily lives. He departs from that aspiration and ventures into something which is the exact opposite, the animal within himself. As a consequence he falls into line with a lot of other stupid people in the film, but his choice being to regret his departure from where he started out.
One of the great things about your filmmaking style is the lack of unnecessary dialogue; if viewers already know the content of a conversation about to be had, it’s simply avoided. Does it require a conscious effort to streamline character interaction, or does it come naturally to you?
I’m keenly interested in how we interact as human beings. I’m not averse to dialogue but sometimes we make irrational skips forwards in the way we talk to each other. This is our first conversation together, but had we had numerous interactions we could have skipped around in a way that other people perhaps couldn’t follow. For an outsider, which the camera is, it would say something about the nature of our relationship. So, in answer to your question, it’s yes and no!
Your films often feature split families, and absent fathers as broken men. What is it about these themes that resonate with you?
I never thought of it that way! I think all our relationship drama starts with the family, as that’s where our original knowledge of conflict emanates from. Family has its own conflict, but there’s also – and I firmly believe this – a healing potential in every family. It’s something that really interests me.
What do you have planned for the future?
I’d like to get a little bit younger and a little bit wealthier! In lieu of that, I’ll keep making films. They may not make me rich, but they’ll keep me having fun for years to come.
In Order of Disappearance is in cinemas now.