By Tom Ue.
David Färdmar’s new film Are We Lost Forever explores what happens at the end of a picture-perfect relationship: Adrian’s (Björn Elgerd) and Hampus’ (Jonathan Andersson) partnership seems built to last. They are materially secure, and they are, for all appearances, compatible. One day, Hampus decides that the end has come. The film follows the characters as they try to reconfigure their relationship—with only partial success. Are We Lost Forever is Färdmar’s directorial debut. Färdmar made his international debut as writer-director of the short film “My Name Is Love” (2008), which stars Adam Lundgren, Jonas Rimeika, and Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander, which was screened at 70 film festivals, and which earned 12 awards. His follow-up, “A Sting of Maud” (2011) received the Audience Award for Best Swedish Novella Film at the Göteborg Film Festival; and his latest short “No More We” (2018) screened at 45 film festivals and earned five awards. Are We Lost Forever, now available from Peccadillo on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Streaming On-Demand, comes packaged with all of these short films, and interviews with the cast and crew. In what follows, Färdmar and I discuss his work to date, the challenges of making his feature, and how we might interpret Adrian’s and Hampus’ relationship.
You have directed a number of shorts, including the award-winning “My Name Is Love.” What is similar and/or different about making a feature?
When I’m on set directing, the job is about the same for both a short film and a feature film: keeping focus on what’s important in each scene of the script; guiding the actors and pushing them to their limit, and beyond; and also showing enthusiasm so that everyone knows what to do and have a good time working together. The difference, of course, is the period of time: a short film could take for a couple of days; for a feature, a couple of months; and for our film, over a year, including breaks. You really need to love what you do, and also love your project and know the real, deeper meaning and purpose for why you want to tell the particular story. It’s also more difficult to keep track of all the arcs in the story and those for each of the characters. Eventually you have to put all the pieces together in the editing room. Also, the financing part is different: funding a feature film is way much more difficult than funding a short film.
As in “My Name Is Love,” Are We Lost Forever features a fantastic ensemble cast. How did you cast this film?
Thank you. I actually wrote the roles of the main characters Adrian and Hampus especially for the actors Björn Elgerd and Jonathan Andersson. I met them at casting sessions for other projects eight years ago and always wanted to work with them myself when I make my first feature film. I’ve also known many of the other cast members for many years and had them in mind for characters while writing; but they never really knew that actually. Thankfully they all said “yes” to the roles when I did finally ask them.
The most difficult character to cast was Rasmus, Adrian’s new boyfriend, because that actor has to look like Andersson, with his long hair, green eyes, and slim body type. I did research on every long-haired actor here in Sweden and had a list of them, but when we finally got into pre-production, it seemed like every long-haired actor in Sweden had cut their hair! And then finally, I found this new awesome actor named Micki Stoltt, who happened to be from Denmark and was living in the south of Sweden. He looked very similar to Jonathan, and also was totally right for the part, so I casted him. I rewrote the script a little and turned Rasmus into a Dane, which worked out so much better for the story as well.
You have casted so many films. What tips have you got for casting?
When it comes to casting your own film, I’d say: keep looking until you’re 100% certain the actor is the perfect for the character! If you cast the right actor for each part, 90% of the directing on set is done. It sounds like a cliché, but I believe that “everything happens for a reason,” especially with casting. I’ve seen it both working as a casting director for others and for myself. If an actor you’ve “seen” as a certain character suddenly isn’t available or something happens on the way and you need to recast, then that actor wasn’t “right” anyway. The ones you cast in the end, is 99.9% the “right” ones for each part. When you do an independent project, like this one, it’s also very important that I myself like the actor as a human being as well. I want to have a good time on set, and in between takes—and also, after the film is done and you need to promote it. You want to do that with good people.
As an actor doing a casting, I have a long list of tips, I actually have a two- to four-day workshop course for actors about casting so it’s a tricky question to answer quickly here. But I’d give three quick tips: 1. be well prepared; 2. be brave and do something different from what’s in the scene to stand out; and 3. try to have fun.
Much like “My Name Is Love,” this feature is fairly intense. How did you keep the momentum going?
That’s a really good question…. I mean, we only shot for “My name is Love” for 3.5 days, so it wasn’t that hard: we just kept going until we were done; and we had a small and very awesome, dedicated crew and actors who gave it all.
For this feature film, we kind of built it up the same way. We gathered an awesome and extremely dedicated cast and crew: a fairly small crew since this is a very independent production and we wanted to make it all very intimate, both in front, as well as, behind the camera. We also planned our schedule in terms of the different seasons we needed for the exterior scenes, and we shot it almost chronologically. Our shooting schedule was between 2-4 days in a row each time we filmed—very intense days, but then we had breaks for a couple of weeks and sometimes a couple of months. No one ever got tired, quite the opposite – everyone always asked after finishing each segment: “When can we meet again and continue shooting?”
Regarding the actors, I’m not sure how they keep the momentum going with all these breaks. I think you have to ask them. I’m still very impressed with how they managed to jump into their characters again and again over a period of time for almost a year. I do think it helped that we all know each other so well, that we all know the characters so well, and that we all have such great chemistry between us when we work.
Are We Lost Forever has comic potentials despite how seriously Adrian and Hampus take their relationship. For example, the latter is laughably upset when Adrian makes official the end of their relationship on social media. How do you balance between the serious and the comic?
Personally, I don’t really think that scene is a comic moment, and I was not aiming for that. But like all humor and comedy, we all find different things funny. It also differs from country to country and between from person to person, as I’ve noticed at the screenings. I am surprised every time.
I did aim for some kind of dark comedy in some of the scenes, mostly the ones where Adrian and Hampus bump into each other again and again after their breakup. It’s an awkward situation, and some people see the comedy in those scenes and laugh out loud in the cinemas. Others feel so embarrassed that they want to hold a “shame-pillow” (as the expression goes in Sweden) over their eyes in response to how the characters behave. I’ve also heard, after the screenings, that many of them can relate to the film because they’ve done the same things.
Editor Christoffer Sevholt and I aimed to make the film a bit heavier in the first act with the breakup; to lighten things up a bit more in the second act; and to find more comic relief moments in the third and final act, for example in the scene in the clinic waiting room, and the very awkward couples’ dinner scenes. Some people see it, and some people don’t. It’s very interesting really.
What was the environment like on set?
It was always a very safe and fun place to be. We had a small, dedicated and focused team, where most of us all knew each other from way back, and since most of the scenes were pretty long, we only did two or a maximum of three scenes a day, so we had plenty of time and no stress.
A lot of the film’s depth stems from its silences and its incorporation of sounds of breathing. What kinds of direction did you give?
Everyone, both the actors and the sound department, knew from the beginning that this film wasn’t going to be drowned by a bombastic music score in postproduction, so we needed really good sound while shooting the scenes, from the actors and the location we filmed at. I think I just tried to encourage the actors not to be afraid to breathe more heavily, and find that intimate feeling in their voices as well. We also enhanced these naked, intimate feelings and breathings in the post with the help of sound designer Per-Henrik Mäpenpää. At one point, we actually added a lot of music score that was beautifully composed by Per-Henrik, but thankfully stopped ourselves and went back to our original plan: we stayed true to our vision, keeping it all low-key to create this intimate and raw feeling.
Let’s talk more about the film’s story. Adrian enjoys taking control in his relationships, and as Hampus suggests, everything he says sounds like criticism. Does this desire for control make him ideally suited for his work in photography, where he needs to tell his subjects what he wants?
On point! Adrian is used to getting his way with the models in his studio, as he directs them how to look and behave in front of the camera. Unfortunately for Hampus, and later on Rasmus as well, he brings that behaviour back home.
Does Adrian change throughout the film? If so, how?
I think that’s really for the audience to answer. What do you think? Does he really? Or, maybe in that last scene on the bike in the sunset, he’s at least learned something and he is about to make some changes in the future?
Adrian controls Rasmus just as he does Hampus and Léon; but Rasmus seems more independent. Is he better for Adrian?
Maybe in a few years, Rasmus and Adrian would have been a perfect match for each other, but they don’t seem to be so good for each other at the stage of their lives where we see them in the film.
Can Rasmus change Adrian for the better?
It’s such a hard question to answer, and these are exactly the questions that would have been so much fun and interesting to talk with the audience about – IF there had been more Q&As happening in real life at film festivals during 2020! I’m not sure, but maybe Rasmus might work as an “eye-opener” for Adrian at least. I don’t think Adrian is ready for a total change in the period of time where we meet him in the film.
The rhymes on the names Adrian / Julian and Hampus / Rasmus suggest how much Adrian and Hampus are ultimately looking for each other. What keeps them going despite their recognition that their relationship didn’t work?
They still love each other, even if it hurts.
At the end of the film, we see Adrian riding his bike, and for the first time ever, he seems to let his hair down. Is that wishful thinking or does he have the capacity to change?
The only thing I could add is that, if the audience looks closely, it’s not Adrian’s bike that he is riding….
What’s your take on Adrian’s and Hampus’ relationship? Are they really lost forever?
If you keep your eyes open, there might be an answer to that question in four or five years.
What’s next for you?
Last year was totally crazy intense for me, releasing the film at festivals and working with all the distributors—it sold to 11 countries—for the releases in 2021. I also worked as a casting director for an international TV series, and everything with the COVID-19…. 2021 is going be more about recharging both my private and creative batteries; and I will start writing some new material pretty soon, if I’m lucky. I have two ideas in my head: a TV-series and a new feature film.
Tom Ue is Assistant Professor of English at Dalhousie University and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London. He is the author of Gissing, Shakespeare, and the Life of Writing (Edinburgh University Press) and George Gissing (Northcote House Publishers / British Council) and the editor of George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Edinburgh University Press). Ue has held a Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto Scarborough.