Johannes Nyholm • Director of Koko-di, Koko-da
“People get shocked and moved, and many just sit there in their seats after the ending”
by Jan Lumholdt
- With his second feature, Koko-di, Koko-da, Johannes Nyholm explores grief and claustrophobia with the help of a nursery rhyme in a truly nightmarish setting
With each new work, Swedish director Johannes Nyholm cements his position as a solid Swedish cinema maverick – no mean feat, considering his breakthrough, the outrageous little short Las Palmas, where he had his one-year-old daughter acting the very convincing part of a drunk tourist in a Spanish bodega, entirely populated by puppets. Las Palmas became a festival and viral hit, and Nyholm’s debut feature, The Giant [+see also:
interview: Johannes Nyholm
film profile], won the 2017 Guldbagge Award for Best Film. His follow-up, Koko-di Koko-da [+see also:
interview: Johannes Nyholm
film profile], has just had a splendid run – from Sundance over to IFFR in Rotterdam, and then to Nyholm’s home town of Göteborg, where he sat down with us and reflected on the genre of the evil fairy tale.
Cineuropa: We have a music box playing some grotesque nursery rhyme that depicts figures who start to terrorise a couple on a camping trip who are grieving the loss of their little daughter. Should we call it an evil fairy tale?
Johannes Nyholm: I’ve had trouble with the genre description. Is it horror? Not quite. I’ve said “dark tale” and “surreal nightmare”. But the fairy-tale element is very important. So yes, evil fairy tale – or vicious. I wanted it to be very malicious but also to give us some hope, as well as being poetic and beautiful.
You’re just back from the film’s maiden voyage, with screenings at Sundance, Rotterdam and now Göteborg. What kind of reactions have you been getting?
People get shocked and moved, and many just sit there in their seats after the ending. Quite remarkable. Then they come up to me with questions; they need some answers.
We certainly do, in order to be able to sleep soundly again. The shock is even worse if we don’t know what’s going to happen. This is really a film you should see without knowing anything at all about the story.
I fully agree, but at least the American media seem a bit too keen to describe the whole story in their articles. I first tried to ask the journalists to keep quiet about the developments, but I lost the fight. They want something to write about, and I understand them. Now, I go for the Brecht method: I tell people everything, and then they can see how I’ve done it. That’s nice, too.
When they approach you after the film, do you have the tools to calm them down?
I’m perfectly willing to try to give them answers to everything they ask about. To me, there are several stories here. It could be about grief management, but it could also be about loss of freedom and the claustrophobic state of a relationship – in this case within the main couple.
People also like to make comparisons with other storytellers: David Lynch, Yorgos Lanthimos, Terry Gilliam and even Groundhog Day have been mentioned here.
Not too bad, right? I’ve heard Pasolini and Ruben Östlund mentioned as well. But in fact, it all stems from one mental image that I got in 2006 or 2007, during a moment between being awake and falling asleep. I then added some other ideas in a notebook, in the middle of the night. I remember getting a shiver down my spine. There it was, the story.
You have managed to reach quite an audience with some very personal films. The Giant won several prizes for best Swedish film, and Koko-di, Koko-da is already generating a buzz and securing some international sales. Could it possibly be this year’s Border [+see also:
interview: Ali Abbasi
One can hope, can’t one? Border has had quite a journey so far. But it’s a different film. Possibly apart from the two main characters, Border is much more classical, whereas my movie is more unconventional and harder both to define and to stomach – with all the pros and cons that go with it. But for me, this is what I do.
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