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Johan Renck: Q & A

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The Scene gets melancholic in Stockholm with Swedish pop video director Johan Renck.

The Scene: What is it you like about Stockholm?

Johan Renck: Stockholm has become a home to return to for me. I travel a lot in my work and in some senses I've become almost more of a visitor here, which has transformed my relationship to Stockholm into something more exciting. Every time I come back it's like re-discovering the place. I've become more curious about Stockholm since I started traveling so much because before it was just here and you were just used to it and it was just your place. But now it's one of those cities that you tend to pass through in a different way. I've deepened my relationship with Stockholm. It's more important to me, it's my sanctuary, it's where I feel safe and I have my friends and my family and all that stuff. So from being quite mundane it's now something much deeper and more emotional. It made me realize that I could never leave here completely because I have to come back.

TS: Growing up in the suburbs of the city, did you feel a sense of frustration at being on the outskirts rather than at the center of things?

JR: I've never been a frustrated person because I learnt at a very young age that the frustration I had inside of me had to do with creativity and the ability to transform that into action. I realized very early my restlessness had to be channelled into things I could do. I played in bands very very young. I painted, I did photography, all kinds of things. I was never frustrated. We did lots of little projects, we had fun. I never had the feeling of being trapped in a suburb.

TS: You've done a lot of stuff: music, videos, commercials, art and now a feature film ...

JR: I tend to spread my jam too thinly on all my toasts rather than making one really perfect toast, but that's my nature I guess. I can't really do anything about it. I'm very impatient and I'm very curious. As soon as I think, "ok, I understand this, I know how it works, this doesn't challenge me," I want to do something else. While inside I realize whatever it is that you do you have to come to that point again and again on different levels. It started with the music. I did three albums and all of a sudden I wasn't interested anymore. Which is obviously completely wrong, because now I'm very passionate about music. I just recorded a song with an experimental string quartet and the spark was awoken again so I am planning a new project. But I thought I was done with it. Whatever it is that you do you have to endure those stale periods and do it again and again and find a new angle on it.

I kind of feel a lot of the things I do, or all the things I do, have the one thing in common which is about putting emotions into another format -- reformatting emotions, putting emotions into music, or into a picture or into a music video, whatever it would be. Feature film is just yet another way of doing that. For me what I find very challenging about film is that the amount of time you have allows your emotions to take a totally different ride because in a lot of the other things I've done you have kind of one arch you can do; you can start something, something happens and then it ends. But if you have an hour and a half you can do a much longer emotional journey, you can throw yourself in all sort of directions.

TS: You seem inclined towards the darker end of the emotional spectrum.

JR: I've become more and more inclined in my work to discover what sort of emotions I like to portray. And I think my favourite emotion is melancholy and some sort of bittersweet darkness, which I think is a very Swedish thing actually. I totally think there is a Scandinavian melancholy. I don't think you can say exactly why, I suppose it is about light or weather conditions or something like that. Melancholy is a great feeling and if you feel a little bit it's very easy to dial it up by putting on a piece of music or whatever it is you do. You'll find Swedes -- maybe not as much as the Finns -- thriving in melancholy.

TS: Is that melancholy reflected in Stockholm itself?

JR: If you look for it you'll find it amongst people, I guess. But it's not something you'll stumble on as a visitor -- it's not like, "hey, I went to Stockholm, I went out to a bar and nobody seemed very melancholic there" -- it's something else, primarily a lot of emotions are reflected through what people do. A lot of Swedish music is very melancholic, a lot of Swedish films have a blueness too so you'll rather see a need to express it though things like that rather than among people on the street. You can clearly find it in the music and the visual arts. Every now and then you'll find people doing happy things but I think it's only really a way to allow them to go back to the melancholy stuff later on.

TS: What's your film about?

JR: It's an American independent film called "Downloading Nancy" and it's a very dark drama about a very destructive woman. It's a script that was sent to me -- I can't even remember how I got it but I liked it instantaneously and we spent six months re-writing it and re-writing it. It is about, if we're going to go into a pretentious analysis of it, the fact that in order to be able to love somebody for real you have to give up a significant part of yourself. You have to take out a chunk of yourself and replace it with a part of another person and in a way you then become a part of that other person and if you're not able to do that you're not able to love, in a way. This very sad and depressing story is about that and a relationship gone very, very wrong to the extent that the lead character wants to kill herself based on the misery she feels of a wasted life.

It's also about another thing actually, which is that point in life when you think, "oh, that was it." A lot of people go through crises like that in their 40s because it's not a point in your life when you can start a new life or a new career or a new family or something like that. In many ways you've almost peaked and all the choices in your life come to affect that. So the film is about that kind of staleness that happens at a certain point in life -- for some people at 20 and for some people at 60. So that's all the intricate bits of the film. The easier side is that it's about a relationship gone completely wrong and a woman who wants to kill herself because of that. It's quite dark.


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