Saturday, May 04, 2024

Paradiset brinner / Paradise Is Burning

Mika Gustafson: Paradiset brinner / Paradise Is Burning (SE 2023). Bianca Delbravo (Laura), Dilvin Asaad (Mira) and Safira Mossberg (Steffi).

    SE 2023 © Hob AB (Nima Yousefi) / Tuffi Films (Venla Hellstedt, Jenni Jauri) / ToolBox Film (Maria Stevnbak Westergren) / IntraMovies (Marco Valerio Fusco, Micaela Fusco). Country: Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Finland.
    Director: Mika Gustafson
Screenplay: Mika Gustafson, Alexander Öhrstrand
Cinematographer: Sine Vadstrup Brooker - Color | 1.78:1
Production Designer: Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth
Costume Designer: Susse Roos
Make Up and Hair Designer: Kaisa Pätilä
Music: Giorgio Giampà
Sound designer: Gustaf Berger - 5.1 & Stereo 
Editor: Anders Skov
Casting director: Elin Ström
    Cast: Bianca Delbravo (Laura, 16), Dilvin Asaad (Mira, 12), Safira Mossberg (Steffi, 7), Ida Engvoll (Hanna), Mitja Sirén (Sasha), Marta Oldenburg (Zara), Alexander Öhrstrand (Hannas man), Isabella Kjellberg (Sandra).
    Film clip: Stalker (SU 1979).
    Language: Swedish
    108 min
    World Sales: Marco Valerio Fusco – Intramovies
    Festival premiere: 7 Sep 2023 Venice Film Festival - Orizzoni prize for best director Mika Gustafson - Authors under 40 Award for best screenwriting Mika Gustafson.
    Swedish premiere: 27 Oct 2023.
    Guldbagge Awards: Best Film (Nima Yousefi) - Best Production Design (Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth) - Best Make-up (Kaisa Pätilä)
    Helsinki premiere: 19 April 2024 - Cinemanse - Finnish subtitles: Janne Kauppila.
    Viewed at Finnkino Kinopalatsi 8, Helsinki, Saturday 4 May 2023.

IMDb logline: " Three sisters aged 7 to 16, live alone after their mother vanishes for whole swathes of time. When the social services demand a family meeting, oldest sister Laura plans to find a stand in for their mother. "

Handling: " Filmen kretsar kring tre systrar, Laura, Mira och Steffi, i åldrarna 7 till 16 år. Eftersom deras mamma är borta under längre perioder, bor systrarna ofta ensamma. När socialtjänsten börjar ställa frågor och kräver ett möte med familjen, planerar äldsta syster Laura att hitta någon kan fungera som stand-in för mamman. För att inte oroa sina yngre syskon, håller hon sin plan hemlig. "

Handling (Svensk Filmdatabas): " Tre systrar, 7 till 15 år, lever ensamma. Mamman försvinner i perioder och det mesta av vardagslivet får systrarna lösa själva. När soc kräver ett familjemöte har den äldsta systern Laura en vecka på sig att hitta någon som kan spela mamman. I sitt sökande efter en låtsasmamma inleder Laura en relation med 35-åriga Hannah. Någonting som inte bara förändrar Laura, utan även situationen for systrarna. "

Synopsis (Venice): " In a working-class area of Sweden, sisters Laura (16), Mira (12) and Steffi (7), get by on their own, left to their own devices by an absent mother. With summer on the way and no parents around, life is wild and carefree, vivacious and anarchic. But when social services call a meeting, Laura has to find someone to impersonate their mom, or the girls will be taken into foster care and separated. Laura keeps the threat a secret, so as not to worry her younger sisters. But as the moment of truth draws closer, new tensions arise, forcing the three sisters to negotiate the fine line between the euphoria of total freedom and the harsh realities of growing up. "

Director's statement (Venice) : " Paradise Burning is a declaration of love to sisterhood. To those who know your story and made you who you are. A bond that’s stronger than everything else. A blessing and a curse all at the same time. For me the film is about the transience of time and life. About memories and reconciliation. I want to show what it’s like to be a human being in those moments when euphoric freedom lies cheek to cheek with total despair and the everyday humor in between. "

AA: In Paradise Is Burning, Mika Gustafson's debut fiction feature, the joy and the energy of Laura (16, Bianca Delbravo), Mira (12, Dilvin Asaad) and Steffi (7, Safira Mossberg) evoke Charlotte Regan's Scrapper (GB 2023), another contemporary tale of childhood lived in freedom, the sunny side of being abandoned by parents. But the story that Paradise Is Burning tells is different. It is about sisterhood, tenderly observed and deeply felt. 

It is a perilous life, because it involves finding ever changing ways to get by without money. Sneaking into vernissages of exhibitions for a maximal catch of cocktail snacks. Shoplifting elevated to an art form. Eating fish fingers after the best before date. Chronical lying to social service officers when failing to appear at school.

Laura has even become an expert burglar who breaks into apartments for a few hours of living the life of others, sometimes in luxury. The girls frequent private swimming pools while the inhabitants are away. This aspect of Paradise Is Burning is a poignant statement about the status of outcasts in a consumer society. It reminds me of Auli Mantila's excellent Ystäväni Henry / My Friend Henry (FI 2004). We are invited into the life of the unseen citizens of our society.

During one of these adventures, Laura meets Hanna (35, Ida Engvoll) into whose home she has broken and entered. Unexpectedly, their encounter turns into friendship and more: a tentative love affair. The account of Hanna's situation remains elliptic, but there is a man (Alexander Öhrstrand, also the co-screenwriter) and a baby. Laura's presence chases him away, and Hanna then turns Laura down. But before that Laura has initiated Hanna into her secret life in other people's apartments and taught her the tricks how to get in and out without drawing attention.

A deadline casts its shadow over the girls' existence. A social service officer is coming, and the clock is ticking. There is a clear and present danger that the sisters will be separated. Hanna does her best to find someone to impersonate their mother. The last candidate is Hanna. Laura's tryst with her has alienated her from her sisters. The doorbell rings.

A recurrent motif is a pack of stray dogs wandering in the neighbourhood. The dog from Stalker is glimpsed on television. But Mika Gustafson's vision is the opposite of Andrei Tarkovsky's dystopia thanks to her warm celebration of community against all odds.

I thank Simo Halinen for recommending Mika Gustafson's remarkable fiction feature debut.


In co-production with Tuffi Films | Toolbox Film | Intramovies
In co-production with Film Stockholm | Svt Film | I Väst
Produced with financial support of Swedish Film Institute | The Finnish Film Foundation |
The Danish Film Institute
Produced with financial support of Ministero Della Cultura – Direzione Generale Cinema e
Audiovisivo | Nordisk Film & Tv Fond | Eurimages | The Swedish Arts Grants Committee
Developed with the support from Creative Europe.
A Swedish, Danish, Finish and Italian Co-Production in Accordance with The 1992
European Convention On Cinematographic Co-Production
Produced in collaboration with Triart Cinemanse Dr | Yle | Tall & Small Film | I Öst
Stockholm Debut


Mika was born in Linköping, Sweden on April 25th, 1988. In 2016 she graduated from Valand Film Academy. The same year, she received the Nordic Talents prize in Copenhagen. Her graduation film Mephobia, won Iconoclastic prize at the Torino film festival and Best Actor at Premiere Plans. Her documentary Silvana was awarded at the National film awards for best documentary in 2017. She was granted her own exhibition at Centre d’Art Contemporain de Genève. She was part of the Dragon Award Jury at Gothenburg International Film Festival (2019) and was selected to Berlinale Script Station in 2020 with her fellow scriptwriter Alexander Öhrstrand. Paradise is Burning is her first fiction


Can you tell us about the origins of Paradise is Burning? What inspired the story?

I had known for a long time that I wanted to tell a story from a kids perspective, where kids deal with existential topics. And I have been working with young amateur actors since I started making films. I wanted to make a film that I myself longed to see: Young girls that are hilarious quirky and funny, and at the same time have a complex, and interesting ‘inner life’ too.

What is special about sisterhood, and the connection young women share in the key moments of growing up to you?

When I think about the people that I grew up with, in my childhood/teens, it does sometimes feels like you share a secret together, from another life. I wanted to capture that feeling and reflect it as a tone in the film.

Growing up together is a way of shaping each other and to share memories. But it is also about having separate memories and different experiences. Therefore, it felt important that the three sisters had their own stories. To reflect both the closeness and the loneliness. The film is about the transience of time and life. It is about three sisters hanging on to what has been. The euphoric freedom that lies cheek to cheek with despair and the everyday humor in between.

The film does play with an incredible balance of humor and impending tragedy. Can you tell us how you approached the writing of the script?

I co-write together with, the actor and screenwriter, Alexander Öhrstrand. The story is totally fictional, but we have writing method where we use a multitude of physical places and memories - to create an inner world that co-exists within both our minds - which then becomes a cinematic universe of its own. I had an idea about kids looking after each other.

We then traveled to Linköping (where I come from) and to Malmö (where Alex comes from) and visited places from our childhood. Peeked through the fences of pool villas, that functioned as a hangout for kids when the owners went on vacation. We took a country bus to a crayfish fishery and visited a fun-fair in the forest. Talked to people who grew up in the same places as us, and then we built the film's characters like a Frankenstein's monster.

Soon we realized that one's own memories and stories existed in the other's imagination too. So we traveled to Berlin to write together and free ourselves from the specific geography of all those memories. When the film was shot, in and around Stockholm - the cinematic world had become its own universe.

There's such an astonishing intimate, natural feel to how the girls interact in the film - can you tell us a little about the casting process of Bianca Delbravo, Dilvin Asaad and Safira Mossberg and your working practices on set?

I adore working with actors, both professionals and amateurs equally. Directing actors is something spiritual to me. At the same time my directing method is easy - always put the actor first! It is all about trust and preparation - and then always be open to the unexpected to happen. But it was a long casting process, more than ten months.

Alex found Bianca outside a supermarket. He was going to get breakfast and heard this raspy, deep teenage voice that he thought would intrigue me. That is was the kind of thing I was looking for in a character. He turns around looking to see who the voice belonged to, and saw a girl in an oversized tracksuit, sitting on a stone wall and chastising her boyfriend over the phone. He immediately called me and said: ”You have to come here - now! There is this girl here that you have to cast, you need to come here and get her number. Come fast because she’s about to leave.” I said “I’m not going to make it” and that he had ask for her number, but he said no. You see Alex is also an actor and was playing a cop in a
popular TV show set in the seventies. ”Are you crazy! Im 40 years old with a handlebar moustache and you want me to go up to a teenage girl and say hey you want to be in a movie? I ́m gonna look like a creep!

Anyway, I made him ask her, but he was so nervous he wrote down the wrong number! So I could not get a hold of her! A year later Alex and I where out walking, talking about the script, when a girl walks by, talking to her friend in this deep raspy voice. I spin around and asked Alex if he thinks I should ask that girl to come in for a casting. Alex looks over at the girl and his eyes lit up ”It’s her! It’s the girl!” This time I went over and asked for the number and I had Bianca in for an audition. Elin Ström (casting director) found Safira (Steffi) at the subway station. And Dilvin (Mira) at her school outside Stockholm. First time I met Dilvin she looked me in the eyes and told me she was made to play Mira. I took her in for a lot of more call-backs, but I was actually quite convinced already.

Paradise is Burning really gives us a palpable sense of the seasons, especially of summer. What was your artistic vision of the film and how did you work with DOP Sine Vadstrup Brooker to achieve this vision?

I had a very clear vision. I always collect a lot of materials, references, do a lot of research in the writing process and I’m very precise about the tone in the film. I wanted the cinematic photography for this film to feel poetic and playful and sometimes punk, all at the same time. Sine and I come from two quit different worlds, in both working method and style, and I think that this clash made us find precisely the right look.

No comments: