In Order Of Disappearance: Hans Petter Moland interview

We talk to Hans Petter Moland, the director of the best film at this year's Edinburgh Festival, In Order Of Disappearance...

In Order of Disappearance was our favourite movie from the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival. It’s a grimly amusing revenge thriller starring Stellen Skarsgard that’s earned comparisons to the Coen and McDonagh brothers.

As Norway’s citizen of the year (Skarsgard) takes revenge on a drug cartel, marriages are tested, tempers rise, children are kidnapped and some Albanians visit a ski resort. It’s got everything. You can read our review of it, see it in UK cinemas now, and read our interview with director Hans Petter Moland (Aberdeen, Zero Kelvin) below.

The comedy struck me as being very dark, dry and slightly twisted. Is that a good description of Norway’s sense of humour? (You are, for the purposes of this interview, an ambassador for all of Norway.)

Ah, no! That’s a description of my sense of humour. Though I think it resonates with Norwegians, but British humour can be dry and dark as well.

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Some shots on handheld cameras have a constant bobbing, gentle movement, and you employ a lot of close-ups of faces. Why do you choose to shoot these scenes in this way? What are you trying to convey?

I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of handheld, just when there’s a purpose to it. I don’t have a dogmatic approach, there’s a lot of wide shots. There are a lot of close ups on wide angle lenses which include surrounding… there’s a lot of physicality in general and that was the plan…the feeling that you don’t have people isolated from these cold circumstances, that placing was a deliberate choice. 

Regarding performances, do you trust your actors to interpret the script and make suggestions, or do you micro-manage scenes to get what you want?

I don’t know about other directors, but there’s not an either/or answer to that question. Some things it’s important to have them conveyed just exactly as it was scripted, other things I play around with, the actors contribute and the outcome might be another one than what was initially in the script. Part of the obligation of a director is to breath life into the story, and the script is a recipe…you can follow it, you know, to the T and if it doesn’t taste right there’s really not a point to that.

So… making it come alive is really what I consider one of a director’s main obligations, which also means going at it and going at the scene – Even if I’ve written it myself – and be open to and critical of anything that doesn’t work. Sometimes things work well on paper and it has to be changed because it doesn’t work in real life, or circumstances make it not work. Or, in the process of playing with actors and your crew better ideas come up. It’s like a dialectic you know?

I always have rehearsals with the actors, not to plate things or to etch it out in stone but just to get their impression – having read the script – and sometimes actors will come in with suggestions you haven’t thought of yourself which will ignite the creative process once more. Or they discover mistakes or inconsistencies or whatever, but it’s an on-going process and I think that’s part of the fun of filmmaking is that you keep discovering.

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And making a film is like a discovery. You start in one place and you keep exploring material or subject matter or whatever, and it would be totally boring if you ended up at the exact same place as you started out.

Whatever it takes!

Was there ever intended to be a gory death involving the rotating blades of the new snowplough, or was that a red herring?

I’m not sure whether it was a plan to have a death from the new snow blower… obviously he has a lot of machines, and so we thought someone needed to die as a consequence of it, but if he has enough of them it isn’t important which one… 

The amount of blood is quite restrained, considering the number of deaths. Was that a stylistic choice, an attempt at realism, or just because a pragmatic attempt to reduce costs?

It’s quite a realistic choice, because it’s 25 below… it doesn’t pour that much out of you. Especially with a lot of heavy clothing on, it’ll just seep into your woollen underpants.

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Also, when you’re working in an environment that’s so white, using the blood in a more specific way rather than just spattering it everywhere is the point, you know?

It feels like the film is mocking Norway throughout, what with the police’s reaction to the carnage, the references to welfare, the drug Lord’s diet, the citizen of the year going on a killing spree, all the young adults getting killed… does that come from anger or good natured mocking?

I think Norwegians are in many ways a very fortunate people. We won the lottery and found all this oil out in the North Sea; we’re rich by any standards. Originally we were very trusting and very naïve, and a clueless people so I think we’re quite unprepared both for wealth and the brutality of the outside world, the cynicism. In a way it’s a portrait of a very virginal society being ravaged by people who have centuries of blood feud and brutality in their DNA.

With a welfare state and temperate climate, do you feel Nils’ revenge mission would unfold in a similar way in Scotland?

…Yes, why not? I work in Scotland, I think the Scots are quite capable of, err, fighting back, you know? It’s a good quality in a country.

Hans Petter Moland, thank you very much.

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We end there, with Den Of Geek unwilling to use its colossal sway and get involved in the Scottish Independence debate.

In Order Of Disappearance is out in UK cinemas now. You can read our review here.

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