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Lukas Moodysson: Mammoth

The cult Swedish film director discusses his latest film, Mammoth, and how it was inspired by Marianne Faithful's 'Broken English'

Lukas Moodysson’s latest film marks something of a departure for the Swedish director. Following the success of small, home-grown features like Lilya 4-Ever and Together, Moodysson has made Mammoth: a story spread across three countries with Hollywood stars Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal. They play a professional New York couple, Ellen and Leo. Ellen is a doctor working long hours who struggles to connect with her young daughter.

Leo is away on a business trip to Thailand and decides to explore the world beyond his hotel room by taking up lodging in a beach hut where he meets local prostitute Cookie. Meanwhile the couple’s live-in nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito) and her family in the Philippines are struggling being so far apart. Through these three loosely interwoven narratives Moodysson looks at the relationships between parents and their children in a world defined by social inequality. He talks to Dazed about the themes of the film and why he hopes it will lead to some debate.

Dazed Digital: How did you decide on the title of the film?
Lukas Moodysson:
I think it’s a name with different meanings for me. It has something to do with our past, digging in the ground and our history and it also has something to do with our possible future because the mammoths were a species that died out. I’m not necessarily saying that the human race will die out but I’m thinking about the possibility. In the Swedish language ‘mammoth’ is, even more than in English, connected to the word ‘mother’. I’m not sure if I thought about it but afterwards at least I felt that on a subconscious level it had something to do with parenthood, not only mothers but mothers and fathers because I think one of the themes of the film is parenthood and how we take care of our children.

DD: Another one of the themes of the film is globalisation, why did you want to explore that?  
Lukas Moodysson:
My initial interest was imported labour and how, especially women have to travel to other countries to be able to support their own families and what a paradox and what a sad irony it is that the work they are often doing in those other countries is work that contains caring for other people.

DD: And this is your first film shot predominantly in English?
Lukas Moodysson:
It started with the Philippines and the idea of a nanny coming from the Philippines so it started more with an idea that I wanted to make a film in different languages rather than only English. I thought about that Marianne Faithful song ‘Broken English’, I thought that broken English should be the language of this film.

DD: Some of your films include scenes of extreme tragedy – what reaction do you hope to get from the audience through portraying such scenes?  
Lukas Moodysson:
That’s very different from film to film. I also think I change my mind about this the whole time but at the moment I think that there have been some points in my work where I have been interested in trying to find, to create, some sort of understanding within the audience but now I think I’m more interested in the conflicts within the audience. So when people have strong opinions about something, not necessarily the same opinions and when it leads to conflicts and discussions. A film has to have a life after you’ve stopped watching it. It has to ask questions that continue to live afterwards.

DD: And have you found that this film in particular has led to that conflict?
Lukas Moodysson:
Very much so, I think this film has worked very well in the sense that it has been a mirror in a way. For me at least when I have spent a day or two talking to journalists the way they reacted to the film told me a lot about who they were. They were really some interesting days…

Mammoth is released in cinemas on 5 November