Mikael Marcimain: ‘I’ve never made a Palme film’

In The Local's ongoing series profiling Swedish newsmakers, we turn this week's spotlight on filmmaker Mikael Marcimain, director of Call Girl, a controversial film which earned 11 Swedish film award nominations, including best picture and best director.

Mikael Marcimain: 'I've never made a Palme film'

Marcimain has called the film a “classic political paranoia thriller” inspired by events related to a scandal that rattled Sweden’s political establishment in the late 1970s.

Then-Justice Minister Lennart Geijer stood accused of buying sex from an under-aged prostitute in an episode dubbed the Geijer Affair (Geijeraffären).

And while Marcimain had made no secret that the film was inspired by real-life events, he has struggled to understand why his latest work has prompted such an angry reaction from relatives of Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister in power at the time and who defended Geijer against the allegations.

“We have made a feature film, a work of fiction. A thriller. This is not a documentary. It is a work of art,” he told the TT news agency in October upon hearing that Palme’s son planned on reporting the film for slander.

Despite the controversy, the Swedish Film Institute gave Marcimain something to cheer about on Thursday, showering it with 11 nominations for the annual Guldbagge film awards, nearly twice the number of nominations of the second most-nominated film.

Among the nominations were nods in several heavyweight categories, including best picture, best screenplay, best actress, best cinematography, and best director.

Call Girl, Marcimain’s first feature-length film, has already received festival accolades, picking up the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, as well as the audience choice award at the Stockholm Film Festival in November.

In December, it was recognized for its production design at a festival in Turin because, according to the jury, it “actually made us believe it was a film from the 1970s”.

And a best picture or director award at the Guldbagge ceremony later this month would mark a major milestone for the 42-year-old filmmaker, who was previously recognized in 2008 with a culture prize from daily Dagens Nyheter (DN) for his work on several popular television mini-series.

“He has established himself as a director with a firm grasp on the medium: courageous, creative, subtle, intelligent, sensitive, and visually driven,” the jury wrote in handing Marcimain the award.

“He’s the best Swedish filmmaker who still hasn’t made a single feature film.”

Marcimain studied at the Stockholm film school before starting his career as a director’s assistant at Sveriges Television (SVT).

He was one of several directors who worked on the mini-series Skeppsholmen in 2002, before gaining notoriety for a mini-series on Sweden’s “Laser Man” in 2005 and an award-winning mini-series portraying the lives of four young people from Gothenburg in the early 1970s.

“It was a magic journey that will be hard to beat,” he told DN in 2008 of Upp till kamp (How Soon Is Now?), explaining that he had to fight with SVT to ensure the series consisted of 90-minute, rather than 60-minute episodes.

Speaking with the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper in December, Marcimain compared Call Girl to Hollywood political thrillers like All the President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor, but admitted he took a bit more artistic licence in his own film.

“We’ve tightened and borrowed quite a bit, and sure we’ve been disrespectful. But it’s a fictional film. That’s something that’s crystal clear for me,” he said.

Commenting further on the accusations of slander from Mårten Palme, who in December reported Call Girl to the Chancellor of Justice (Justitieskanslern) for slander, Marcimain explained he had no intention of singling out the former prime minster in the film.

“We took inspiration and references from that period in Sweden to shape the film’s characters, of which the prime minister is one,” he told SvD.

“And he acts according to the script. Powerful men are symbols and they chose to hide a sensitive matter. At the cost of these young girls.”

Marcimain said the media are mostly to blame for characterizing his move as a “Palme film”.

“I’ve never made a ‘Palme film’,” he explained.

“The film is so clearly about the girls’ journey.”

Even before the nominations were announced on Thursday, Marcimain made it clear he had “no regrets” about the film.

“It looks just as we wanted it to, true to the artistic vision,” he told SvD.

“I’m very proud.”

Take a look at our past Swedes of the Week.

David Landes

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Analysis: What does the Olof Palme news actually mean for Sweden?

Sweden may never know for sure who killed Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986, but perhaps it is time to move on, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren.

Analysis: What does the Olof Palme news actually mean for Sweden?
A rose left on Wednesday at the spot where Olof Palme was shot. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

For 34 years, the unsolved murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme has been nothing short of an open wound in Sweden, and it has given rise to numerous conspiracy theories over the years.

Today, the long-running murder investigation ended, as chief prosecutor Krister Petersson revealed who he thinks held the gun: Stig Engström, an advertising consultant for insurance company Skandia, who disliked Palme and had access to weapons, but had never previously featured among the prominent suspects.

More than 130 people have confessed to killing Palme, more than 600 million kronor is estimated to have been spent on the case. It's been the biggest news story for 34 years, and it ended with a whimper.

To me, it feels surreal.

My mum was pregnant with me when Palme was killed, so I obviously don't have any of my own memories of the early days of the investigation – botched from the start as investigators tried to turn dead ends into leads.

But it has nevertheless been a major part of my life, and everyone else's life in Sweden. If you're old enough, you will always remember where you were when you first heard that the prime minister had been killed. But even if you're not, there has been no escaping the ghost of the Palme probe over the past three decades.

When I moved to Stockholm five years ago, there were so many place names that I really only associated with the murder – the hospital where the ambulance brought him, the cinema where he and his wife Lisbet spent the evening, the mystery shooter's escape route down Tunnelgatan, up the steps and into the night.

Every once in a while, there has been a new story in Swedish tabloid, a new theory for the large number of hobby detectives investigating the murder to get their teeth into, a new anniversary as the years pass by.

And now, the case is closed.

The suspect is dead, so there will never be a trial. We will never know what he would have told a court, we may never know whether he acted alone (Petersson thinks that he did, but also said that a wider conspiracy could not be ruled out). He will never be able to clear his name and a court will never be able to convict him.

As Petersson told today's press conference – a two-hour study in Swedish bureaucratic use of powerpoint presentations that took us down the long and winding road of the 34-year-old murder investigation – he as the prosecutor needs only enough evidence to bring a suspect to court, which will not happen in this case.

But that is not the same as a conviction.

Hopes were dashed today when no new forensic evidence – or indeed any forensic evidence at all – was presented, with the prosecutor basing the case on a series of incriminating, but circumstantial, factors.

Stig Engström claimed to have been a key witness at the scene of the murder. Photo: SVT/TT

Stig Engström, also known as “the Skandia man”, was questioned as a witness back in the 80s and was interviewed in the media several times. But when his witness statements did not add up, he was fairly rapidly dismissed as an unreliable attention-seeker who was simply trying to overstate his own importance.

Petersson took his time to go through a long list of evidence: that Engström's clothes matched descriptions of the killer, that no other witness on the scene was able to back up Engström's own claims of his contributions or even remember him, and that many of Engström's own movements that night matched those of the killer.

You would not normally name a deceased accused, but Petersson clearly felt an obligation to offer as thorough a presentation as possible to give Swedes an explanation they can come to terms with.

But there was no smoking gun, not even in the literal sense. Rumours that a murder weapon had been found proved insubstantial. Nothing new was presented on Wednesday – many parts of the claims of evidence against Engström had already been listed at length by journalist Thomas Pettersson in the magazine Filter in 2018. Today mostly felt like a recap of what had previously been hashed out in Swedish media.

Chief police investigator Hans Melander and chief prosecutor Krister Petersson at the press conference. Photo: Polisen/TT

I asked Petersson whether he thought the public would accept his conclusions.

He said he believed he had taken the investigation as far as it could go, but added: “I am not so stupid I don't understand that different conspiracy theories will keep afloat in the public domain the way they have done over the past 34 years. But we have a conclusion that we feel that we can stand behind.”

Palme's widow Lisbet always stuck by her original testimony, where she pointed out another man as the killer. But Palme's three sons today said that although they were disappointed with the lack of forensic evidence, they believed that prosecutor Petersson had presented a convincing case, and accepted his conclusions.

That's not a court verdict either, but perhaps his family's calm acceptance can help the rest of us find closure.

I think a lot of people in Sweden will feel a sense of disappointment today; we had all been hoping for more, for a conclusive answer. But there may also be a sense of relief. After 34 years, perhaps it is time to move on.