Swede of the Week

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

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.

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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