It’s rare to hear journalists and critics vocally turn against a film at the Berlin International Film Festival. Catcalls and hisses, while more common in Cannes, are actually rather rare on the international festival circuit. So, it came as a bit of a surprise to hear a loud “boo,” then whistles, followed by tepid applause and another “boo” this afternoon at the end of Lukas Moodysson’s “Mammoth.” After the showing, the debate began and filmmaker Moodysson admitted that he’s been surprised by audience reactions to his new movie.
The outwardly negative expressions today at the Berlinale seemed to underscore a general let down feeling following Moodysson’s anticipated new feature, although some polled informally said today that they liked the movie. And even those who were disappointed with Moodysson’s latest (including myself), seemed to agree that the boos were unwarranted.
Already playing in his native Sweden, Moodysson’s latest — featuring a name cast and a $10 million budget — arrived at the Berlin fest with great anticipation. It is an ambitious English language story that was shot on three continents. In “Mammoth,” the name derived from an expensive pen that makes a brief appearance in the movie, Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams portray an upwardy mobile New York City couple with a young daughter who is cared for by a Filipina maid. Desperate to return to the Phillipines, the noble nanny cooks, cleans and raises the American girl in order to make enough money to hopefully return to her own kids back home.
Asked, at a post-screening press conference, if he seeks to stir debate with his films, Moodysson was straightforward. “I don’t know if that is what I am aiming for,” he explained, “I want people to react and I don’t mind if they react in a different way.” Continuing the thought, he said, “I don’t make films to start a debate, I make films to express something that I feel deep in my heart. If that turns into a debate somewhere that’s fine, but it is not my main priority.”
At the press conference, and in notes on the movie, Moodysson explained that the idea for “Mammoth” began with the concept of cleaning and maids. And then the filmmaker began reading more about the Phillipines. But, Moodysson cautioned, “Films just happen. In one way you don’t really know where they start.” Continuing he noted, about a previous film, “It’s like when I made ‘Together’, I wanted to make a film about people who had beards. And then it turned into something.”
Well photographed and deliberately paced, the film lacks the experimental qualities of the Moodysson’s recent work. And he seems to have a clearer mission or message he’s aiming for. “This film is about families,” Lukas Moodysson expressed in notes about the movie, “It’s about parents and children and how we behave towards children, our own and other people’s. It’s about how all of us on this planet are connected with each other, whether we like it or not. And how we need each other.”
The adults in Moodysson’s “Mammoth” learn these lessons the hard way and by the conclusion of the movie each has endured an emotional, painful moment of realization. But the ending is apparently being read in a way that has surprised the filmmaker. Asked to talk about the end of his film, Moodysson was evasive.
“I was a bit surprised, because I see the ending one way, but the audiences seem to have different opinions about it,” Lukas Moodysson said today in Berlin. “I don’t know, I don’t really want to answer it.”