Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson burst onto the international film scene with 1998’s “Fucking Åmål” (or, as it was cowardly renamed in English-speaking countries, “Show Me Love”), a carefree, naturalistic drama about a reluctant romance between two small-town teenage girls. Just as ebullient is his 2000 period satire and popular favorite “Together,” which focuses on the dysfunctional relationships and values of ’70s left-wingers living in a commune, after which Moodysson began pursuing darker, moodier fare. 2002’s critical darling “Lilya 4-ever” couldn’t get much bleaker, tracing a Russian girl’s journey from drop-out to prostitute to kidnapped sex slave. Following that were two avant-garde experiments: 2004’s shockingly explicit take on amateur porn, “A Hole in My Heart,” and his 2006 stream-of-consciousness curiosity, “Container.”
Though American actress Jena Malone provided narration to that last film, Moodysson’s new drama is also his first English-language production, mostly. “Mammoth” splits between three related storylines in New York, the Philippines and Thailand. Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams star as a well-to-do, workaholic couple whose daughter is mostly cared for by their Filipino nanny (Marife Necesito), who also works hard to support her young boys back home. Bernal’s character, a savvy web guru, has boarded a flight to Thailand, where he strikes up an uneasy friendship with a local prostitute, while Williams’ surgeon wife becomes attached to a dying boy who isn’t her own. I spoke with Moodysson about whether he’d continue to work in English for the commercial benefits, if he sees similarities between “Mammoth” and “Babel,” and how he feels about the film’s unprofessional reception at the Berlin Film Festival.
You’ve said the film is about families and how we behave towards children, our own and other people’s. To me, though, it’s more about globalization and the dynamics between the haves and haves-not. Is that a fair interpretation?
Yes. It’s boring to make films about only one thing, so there are a lot of different layers. One is definitely about class struggle. I started with someone cleaning an apartment, and I was interested in the whole idea of who cleans our homes today in the Western world. They are mostly women, and very often they are from the poor parts of the world. I was interested in how it feels just to be someone who cleans someone else’s home and takes care of someone else’s children, the sacrifices she has to make, rather than just the political aspects of it.
But you’ve been more attracted to the political than the personal in your recent films, it seems. Do you prefer to keep your personal interests and your filmmaking goals separate?
I don’t, no. I try to combine as many as possible. The difficulty sometimes is that you have to separate things when it comes to storytelling, otherwise, it’s just chaos. And sometimes I want to portray chaos, but most of the time, I want to tell some kind of story. I try to weave a [tapestry]. If I wanted to make [“Mammoth”] a really political film, it would’ve been much angrier. I see it as a very sad film, quite warm, more of a meditation than an accusation.
You once said, “I’m not particularly interested in probing the depths of my soul; I’m more into probing the world around me.” Are those ideas mutually exclusive?
I’m not sure if I agree with myself there. [laughs] I think it was something I said in retrospect when talking about how I changed from being a poet to becoming a film director. I’m not sure if it’s true anymore because I feel that you have to dig really deep inside yourself and combine that. Otherwise, you’re talking to a journalist, and the journalist… I don’t have a problem with journalists. I couldn’t be a journalist, but as an artist, I have to let the world pass through me before I can turn it into something. I can’t only take a picture of the world and be happy with that. I have to filter it through me. My soul and the world, they combine.
Comparisons have been drawn between this film and “Babel,” another globe-hopping, multi-thread narrative co-starring Gael García Bernal. Is there any validity to that reference point?
Well, I haven’t seen “Babel.” I hadn’t seen it before [writing the story], and then someone read the script and said that there were some links. So I decided not to see the film because I try not to be inspired by films. I think Gael wouldn’t have liked to be in “Mammoth” if he had seen too many comparisons.
Do other art forms inspire your filmmaking?
Yeah. I read, listen to music and look at art much more than I see films. I don’t know if it’s a problem to make films and, at the same time, be able to appreciate films. I get a bit distracted by them all, and the fact that this is what I’m doing, it’s quite difficult for me. I used to be a [film buff]. I had a sort of bulimic period when I went to film school when I tried to see absolutely everything that was ever made. I didn’t succeed, but nowadays, I see very little.