Country Wedding, a new film directed by BAFTA award-winning Icelander Valdís Óskarsdóttir, is set to be released later this summer, but the seemingly straight-forward title hides a few twists that make it one of the most interesting movies of the year. The Grapevine met up with Valdis and Víkingur Kristjánsson, one of the film’s lead actors, to find out why the project is so unique and what dark secrets are hidden within its seemingly complex ad-hoc filming and production process.
The plot concerns, unsurprisingly, an out-of-town wedding and the catastrophes and problems that beset such events when depicted on the big screen. In the words of Valdis: “It’s a film about two families that are forced to spend time together. They can stand each other for one hour but they get lost and instead of one hour, they are together for five hours. Then things start to pop up.” However, Four Weddings and a Funeral this is not – it may share a subject matter with many big name films but everything else about the project sets it apart from the usual Hollywood blockbusters.
Further details on the film itself, for reasons that will become apparent, are a bit of a mystery so I started by asking Víkingur Kristjánsson, who plays a mysterious wedding guest, about the key to the storyline and describe the filming process from an actor’s perspective. “It’s quite experimental – something that’s never been done, not here at least. There was the thing with the cameras – you would be surrounded by cameras all the time so you never knew if you were in the shot or not – and you had to be the character you were playing all along and that is, of course, quite exciting. We also had a secret, which was quite fun to work with. Everyone had their own little secret.”
This blurring between reality and acting seems to have worked in a uniquely personal way, stirring up emotions and intrigue amongst cast members and director to produce a performance and camaraderie that even extend into the interview. The pair, laughing in unison, adamantly refuse to reveal any of the film’s key moments (as though it’s a family secret handed down the generations) apart from Víkingur’s comment that “some secrets were quite big and others not so big, but I think the audience will realise quite soon what my secret is”.
They go on to reveal that before filming took place each actor was called into a room and told about their character (secrets and all), a process that reflects the unique way in which Valdís has approached her directorial debut. After winning numerous awards for her editing work on the global hit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind she could, arguably, be sitting in a studio in LA working out how to make millionaire actors look good in a final edit. So to hear tantalising details about an Icelandic film that’s so experimental in nature is both surprising and refreshing.
A willingness to do things differently extended to the script, or lack thereof, with the actors again being given free rein to lead the plot development through their own reactions and interactions. This is something the director was quite firm about. “I didn’t want to have a script. I wanted situations and then I wanted the actors to make their own characters. I thought that would be quite interesting. Doing it this way, you get much more depth in the characters. They came with their own background, with everything from themselves and they used their own way of speaking, their own words. If I was the writer I think everyone would talk similar.”
Explaining the reasons for the unscripted shoot, Valdís explains, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “First of all, I’m really lazy so I thought it was great to get actors to do all the stuff so I didn’t have to do anything myself.” But speaking a bit more candidly she later reveals a deeper reason for making Country Wedding using such methods. “I’m a film editor and because of that I’m often sitting for a very long time working on a film. It can be from four months up to nine months. So I wanted to do something now. Not next year. Not two years from now, but now.”
This impatience also extended to the filming process: “I wanted to do it in one day, like real time. But the producers said we would never make it as we’d need about 20 cameras.” Valdís, who seems assured in her new directorial role, is the only person who knows details of the film’s climax, as Víkingur confesses: “I really don’t know how this movie is going to end but we are very much looking forward to finding out!” Just like the actors, so are we.