Catching Up With... Tomas Alfredson

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Tomas AlfredsonDirector Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In has been the talk of the film-festival circuit for monthsAdapted by screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist from his novel, the film already is set for an American remake, at the hands of Cloverfieldhard to imagine anything Hollywood capturing the unsettling stillness of Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography, or the delicate, sad tone that Alfredson establishes, which makes the inevitable flashes of carnage all the more powerful and, yet, all resolves in a nearly transcendent poignance.
Paste caught up with Alfredson, who was in Stockholm, this week.
Paste: What were you thinking about when you approached the material?Alfredson: The book is like 400 pages, so we had to leave a lot of things out. I tried to concentrate on the love story, because I felt that was the most moving part of it. I haven’t made any horror films before, so everything was quite new to me. So my way to come into this material was coming in from telling a love story.
Paste: That’s a good thing you were fresh to it.Alfredson: Yeah, maybe.
Paste: We’ve all seen these stories before, it’s how you find original ways to reinterpret them. I thought you found some subtle ways to do that. For instance, when Eli comes into Oskar’s house without following proper vampire etiquette, because Oskar insists on seeing what happens. And then she starts hemorrhaging through her skin. It’s like this huge gesture of affection.Alfredson: That’s also an invention from John. This is obviously some revolutionary thing in the vampire world. That was just one of those bleeding things, among the others.
Paste: What was it about the book that made you think it could be a film?Alfredson: The very unsentimental approach to it was the most heartbreaking part of it, and the part that really shook me when I read it. It’s so sentimental by not being sentimental. And then it is of course it is a very unique and original approach with these kind of supernatural things and the very natural things. This original blend, for me it was quite new.
Paste: The supernatural seeps in very gradually …Alfredson: The big horror for me was to make it work. To believe in this landscape, this atmosphere, and to make this deal with the audience: This really could happen in your suburb.
Paste: The cinematography was amazing: The still, icy landscape. The sense of isolation. Even when people are together it feels like the wolves are lurking.Alfredson: It’s a very typical Stockholm suburb. Sweden was kept out of the second World War, and we were very wealthy in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we had a lot of money to do some strange building projects. They called it social engineering. The architecture is very specific for Swedes from this specific era. The look of it is very Swedish for Swedes. I also think the more specific you are, the more universal you get. I don’t understand why it is like that. I suppose that suburbia is a very good environment for making something scary. You’re very close to everyone, and everyone is there behind the curtains, but still it is very quiet.
Paste: In the city, you have your guard up. If something violent or unusual happens, it’s expected. But suburbia, that’s where all the real terror happens.Alfredson: Or in the shower.
Paste: I read an interview that mentioned you had looked at a lot of paintings to develop your visual concept.Alfredson: We studied a lot of Renaissance painters when we were prepping. Mostly, Hans Holbein, who was painting the royal British court n the mid-1500s. He’s using eyes in a very interesting way. Te portrayed person is not looking on the spectator, but is looking a little beside the spectator, and that is very spooky. We also looked at Raffaello (Raphael) for the color and lighting purposes. So we used a painting by Raffaello, from the Vatican, to have a color guide. He uses gray in a very interesting way, as if it was white. Because we have so much white in the film from the snow we have to find some way to communicate all this hard white light. So he helped us a lot. If you don’t know which way to turn, you can always ask the masters.

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