FILM spoke with Scandinavia’s new up-and-coming director duo Alexander Brøndsted and Antonio Tublén who are making their debut with "Original", an idiosyncratic drama about a burdened young man struggling to break free from everyone’s expectations.
An early scene in "Original", the first feature by Alexander Brøndsted and Antonio Tublén, has the protagonist, a troubled young man, mulling over an even more troubled friend's suggestion to leave Sweden's rain and cold and open a restaurant in the Spanish sun. "Maybe two defective lives could balance out into perfection?" he asks himself.
The scene, Brøndsted and Tublén admit, can be seen to be inspired by their own partnership: The two directors found a path in their careers when they started their creative team-up four years ago.
'Let's be a duo'
Alexander Brøndsted, a Dane, and Antonio Tublén, a Swede, had known each other since the 1990s. They had long made film plans together, but they didn't move on them until 2004, when they made the short film Hollywood from a screenplay Tublén had lying around.
"Alexander produced that film and I directed. But when we got to the next film project, we both got equally involved, and I invited him to co-direct it with me," Tublén recalls. "We quickly saw that it worked better that way, with both of us doing the same things. So we were like, 'Ok, let's be a duo.'"
"Everyone always asks us how we divvy up the tasks, but we do everything together and rarely discuss where we're headed. If going left feels natural to both of us, there's no reason to discuss going right," Brøndsted says.
Brøndsted and Tublén enter the Copenhagen café at the same time, they order the same kind of coffee, and they never contradict or interrupt each other, but naturally extend the other's word flow, in Danish and Swedish, respectively, above the café din.
Four years ago, when the duo realised they spoke the same cinematic language and even knew how to direct together, they made two more shorts in rapid succession. Like "Original", the other films are set in eccentric worlds with a strong current of humour fed by situations, not one-liners.
In the last of their shorts, "The Amazing Death of Mrs Müller", the Danish actress Bodil Jørgensen is hit in the head by a bowling ball and "goes kablooey", as the directors put it.
"We like working within a self-defined, weird world where we can do that kind of thing," Brøndsted says. The two directors are inspired by filmmakers who, like them, tell "fairytale-esque" stories and construct singular worlds: Wes Anderson, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson, plus that other director duo, the Coen brothers.
YouTube and bird talk
Not that Brøndsted and Tublén are interested in copying other filmmakers' styles or ways of working. Instead, they pour their energy into creating, defining and evolving their own original world.
There is no easy way to pin down their collaborative process. It ranges widely, from developing costume ideas by exchanging YouTube links to casting the lead for "Original", Sverrir Gudnason, by walking with him around Copenhagen and talking about birds.
"None of us knows anything about birds, but I think we talked about them for half an hour. We talked about anything but the film and the part, and the very same day we knew we wanted him for it," Brøndsted says.
Gudnason lends "a lovely, inner melancholy" to the film's burdened protagonist, Henry, who will do anything to live up to people's expectations. At one point, he even arranges to be filmed in an IKEA store in Malmö, so he can show his mentally ill, hospitalised mother how great his apartment is.
Sick of living as a chameleon, taking colour from his surroundings, Henry decides to take his friend Jon up on the offer and open a restaurant in Spain. But first he has to go through a series of meetings with the film's many offbeat characters, played by a line-up of Scandinavia's finest actors.
"We all play certain roles when we're with our girlfriend or our parents, for instance. In the film, we ask the question, 'Why be a pale copy of yourself when you can be a radiant original?' We think it's possible to be slightly nuts and still have a good life," Tublén says.
In a final twist, Henry realises he no longer needs his friendship with Jon. That's unlikely to happen to the two directors, who intend to continue their joint exploration of offbeat worlds and characters.
"We keep getting better at describing our world," Brøndsted says. "Hopefully, we'll be even more exact the next time around. That's our dream."
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For further information:
"Original" is participating in its first festival competition in Shanghai (13-21 June): The 12th Shanghai International Film Festival
DFI press release
Veteran and two first-timers to Shanghai
DFI factsheet (synopsis, director profiles)