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Does that make “The Hypnotist” – subtitles notwithstanding, a broadly accessible adaptation of a pop novel – one for him, then? He smiles slyly. “Okay, that one's a bit of a combo. One for us all.”
That was clearly the hope of his compatriots, who selected the film last year as Sweden's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. On the basis of name appeal, it seemed a sound choice, but the film always ran the risk of being too genre-inclined – and too gory – for fainthearted Academy voters, and it failed to make the January shortlist. Hallström was unfazed, though he senses others in the industry were disappointed in it.
“The fact that it was selected as the Swedish Oscar submission was maybe an overestimation of the picture, a little bit,” he says openly. He doesn't think it's a coincidence that “The Hypnotist,” despite being picked to represent the industry on such a major international platform, was entirely overlooked at Sweden's top national film awards, the Guldbaggen. “I think as a punishment, the film was a bit under-recognized: Lena's performance, which I think is great, was not even nominated. So I think the response to the film has maybe been a bit unfair in different ways.”
It's one of several occasions in the interview that he doffs his cap to the talents of his wife, whom he first directed in “Chocolat” (for which she received a BAFTA nomination) but hadn't got to showcase in a lead role until now. As the distraught mother of an abducted teen, Olin is indeed impressive, evidently secure in a collaboration Hallström describes as “not even like working – it's just the exhilaration of spending time together and watching her flourish.”
When it comes to his own work on the film, however, he's more critical. “It's been a bit of an odd ride, the whole 'Hypnotist' journey. I like the film, but I wish we'd had one more week of fine-tuning it. We didn't get to preview the film, which is important with such a complex plot, to see how audiences respond to it and adjust accordingly. After the Swedish premiere, I felt it needed a trim, so I took my computer, and I now have a version that's 12 minutes shorter and I think flows better. It hasn't premiered anywhere yet, but I hope it comes out on the DVD.”
Hallström's so candid about his own work that I'm curious to know if there's a title in his filmography that he feels is undervalued – one that didn't get a fair shake from audiences, critics or both. “I think I have two of those,” he says, sounding rather pleased I asked. “One was 'The Hoax,' with Richard Gere, which I liked a lot, but it didn't do much commercially. I thought it was kind of witty and fast-paced and sly, with an ironic tone to it that's more 'me' than anything else I've made. And 'Casanova' was under-appreciated, I think. It's a wild mix of bizarre comedy and romance, and Heath Ledger's such a star in it. I know it didn't work for everyone, but I still like that film.”
As if to prove his point, later that evening I attend a Miami Film Festival career tribute to Hallström, led by Griffin Dunne (producer of his first American feature, “Once Around”) and preceded by an extensive clip package that runs the gamut from “ABBA: The Movie” to “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” – but features not one frame from either “The Hoax” or “Casanova.”
Next on the agenda, he says, is emphatically 'one for him': “It's not official yet, so I can't say much, but it's a small film, very much a labor of love, and will hopefully shoot in the summer.” That'll be an American production, but he's not planning to wait another 26 years before returning to work in his homeland: “'The Hypnotist' opened a lot of doors to me coming back, so it feels more natural now.”
Hallström's dream project, meanwhile, remains a reunion with star Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom the director worked 20 years ago on his second US film, “What's Eating Gilbert Grape” – for which the then-teenaged DiCaprio scored his first Oscar nod.
“I have this obsession about working again with Leonardo,” he admits, almost bashfully. “He's so wonderful in 'Gilbert Grape,' of course, and I made this awful career move once where I turned down doing 'Catch Me If You Can,' because of a phone call from an angry colleague saying, 'You can't do that movie! I'll never work with you again!' So I was stupid enough to pass on it, with everything signed and ready to go. So now I'm obsessed with reconnecting with Leonardo and doing something that good.”
For a man who's obsessed, he seems awfully chilled about it, but that might be the Miami effect. In any event, this lucky-charm festival seems the best possible place for Lasse Hallström to make such wishes.
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