Conversation with Ragner Bragasson: Family Disasters By Mariana Hristova

in 36th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Mariana Hristova

I will not exaggerate if I say that Ragnar Bragasson’s Children and Parents are among my very favorite films from the 36th edition of IFFR. Dealing with problems familiar to every attempt for dialogue between the generations, these clever and honest films investigate relationships inside the most important structure of society — family.

Q: What has inspired you to make two films about relationships between children and parents?
A: This is not the first time I deal with these problems. My first feature film Fiasko made in 2001 is also about misunderstandings between three generations of one family — grandmother, mother and a daughter. They attempt to communicate and have their separate love stories. So this is a kind of a subject I am very interested in — families and what happens behind the curtains.

Q: And why are you so interested? Is it connected with your personal story?
A: I think it’s always something personal. I come from a very good family. I have very healthy relationships with my parents and my children. I started to observe this when I was 20, when I already had lots of friends and a girlfriend. I became very curious why people react like this, why they are like they are. It is a kind of an investigation — to discover how parents’ behavior influences children’s life. For me this is very interesting because is connected with mankind’s development.

Q: So the stories are authentic, a reflection of what you observe around you?
A: Yes, all the characters in both films are based on real people. There are stories everywhere, you just have to catch them. And especially in the family.

Q: This reminds me of a sentence by David Lynch who says that he is interested in what happens behind the walls and windows, inside the houses. Not outside but inside is the truth about people.
A: Major human dramas happen at home. How do you react out of it is a result of the situation there. Home and family are the most important and most dangerous points in human life.

Q: In the annotation of Children in the IFFR program it is said that you’re influenced by John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Mike Leigh. Do you agree with this statement?
A: Cassavetes’ films are very talkative, very dynamic; people have the attitude to speak a lot probably because he grew up in a big Greek family. Maybe his childhood was full of people talking at the same time. It’s typical for that South region. On the other hand people in Iceland are much more reserved, they don’t talk openly about their feelings and intimate things. So in that meaning I’m not so close to him with my Scandinavian temperament but was really influenced by the vision in his films and his way of working with actors. In the sixties he collected groups of actors and worked with the same people over and over again. His first films were made in the same manner I used in Children — no written dialogue, mostly actors’ improvisation. I was influenced by Mike Leigh too. His directing method is very similar. He keeps the actors away from the whole project, explains to them just the main idea but they actually don’t know what happens in details. They don’t even know what exactly they are doing but are precisely focused on their own characters. I don’t give the script to my actors either, they get known with it scene by scene.

Q: For me the main similarity between you and Cassavetes are close-ups that go deep into the characters psychology.
A: Yes, the visual expression of the characters’ inner world is something very typical for Cassavetes and I was really taught by him how to create denser personages on the screen.

Q: I’ve noticed that in both of the films there are very strong characters of influential mothers and sons, painfully connected with them. It’s not a secret that Scandinavian women are feminists, more independent than women from other countries. How do you think this reversing of the roles in the family (strong mothers, weak or absent fathers) influences children?
A: This is a typical family situation for Iceland because men work in the sea, we are a nation of fishermen. For example my father was a fisherman so I was raised mainly by my mother. This happens very often in the Icelandic society and is accepted as something normal. But the family balance is disturbed and I tried to show this mainly in Parents. These changing (roles) could cause lots of troubles. I showed some of them in my films.