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Interview with Urs Egger
Director of the Lisa Films production of Henning Mankell's The Return of the Dancing Master
Posted 11 May 2004

Inspector-Wallander.org is pleased to feature an interview conducted through email with Urs Egger, director of the film version of The Return of the Dancing Master. In his career, Urs has been a part of many successful films in both Europe and Hollywood. His new film, known more by it's German title Die Rückkehr des Tanzlehrers, is based on Henning Mankell's first crime novel written after the Kurt Wallander series ended. Set in northern Sweden, the story introduces readers to policeman Stefan Lindman who, much like Kurt, faces many troubling questions in his personal life and is filled with the kind of self-doubt that Mankell fans will recognize.

First shown on German and Austrian television, the film will be available in English on DVD this fall. The film features actors Tobias Moretti as Stefan Lindman, Veronica Ferres as Veronica Molin, Maximilian Schell as Fernando Hereira and Mathew Marsh as Guiseppe Larsson.

For full details on the film, including a six minute video trailer, see the resources section printed below the interview.

 

 

Cast and director of Return of the Dancing Master
Director Urs Egger with Veronica Ferres & Tobias Moretti
Photo © Lisa Films
 

 

1. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your family? How long have you been working in the TV and film business?

Urs Egger: As there was no film school in my native Switzerland, I went to America and studied film at The American Film Institute in L.A. in the mid-seventies, then became an Assistant Director on European and American productions before moving on to make my own films. I live in Berlin, Germany and have a 9 year old son.

2. Please tell us about the production: where it was filmed, the budget, casting choices, production schedule, etc. Where will the film be shown either on TV or at the theater?

Urs Egger behind the camera. Click for larger view.UE: Karl Spiehs, a well-known producer in Vienna, initially wanted to make a co-production with a Danish film company who had already developed a script by two Swedish writers. This plan eventually fell through and it was decided that both companies would make their own versions of Dancing Master.

The film had a budget of around 5.6 million Euros. It was shot partially in Vienna for the interiors of Elena Bromwichs flat, the hospital and the Argentinean concert sequence - where Hereira hears the tango and through the violinist Andersson finds out about the whereabouts of Molin, the killer of his father. The Molin house was completely built at an Austrian lake near the Czech border, in the "Waldviertel"-region, a landscape that really looks like Sweden. We then moved on to the Swedish island of Öland for the Wetterstedt compound. We found an old lighthouse where an artist lives, a perfect location.

As we had to stay South because of the diminishing daylight hours in September/October, we shot the Borås sequence in the small town of Växjö, and the Sveg sequences in Moheda, a little place nearby which the locals aptly call "The hole of holes". We completed filming in Helsingborg for the Hereira harbour and hotel sequences.

Once we had Tobias Moretti as Stefan Lindman, Maximilian Schell as Hereira and Veronica Ferres as Veronica [Molin], all of them very popular actors in Germany and Austria, we then looked for Scandinavian and British artists for the other parts. It was a wonderful day when the great Bergman actress Bibi Andersson agreed to play Elsa Berggren. Of course it was a bit strange for the Scandinavian artists to fly to Austria to play in English in a Mankell film that takes place in Sweden. But they all took it with humour and delivered great performances.

All in all it was a fantastic cast, with such wonderful people like John Wood of "Chocolat" as Andersson, Molin's neighbor, Michael Byrne as Wetterstedt (The Nazi officer in "Indiana Jones/Last Crusade"), not to forget Matthew Marsh, who was fantastic to work with and really brought a lot to the part of "Giuseppe Larsson", the local cop up North.

The film was made as a two-part miniseries of 2x 90 minutes, plus a shorter version of 120 minutes. Mainly it will be shown on TV, but some countries like Japan are thinking of releasing it theatrically in the 120 minute version.

3. What kinds of feedback have you received from the public and the critics for this film?

UE: We had good reactions that acknowledged our ambition to stay true to the spirit of the book. The film premiered simultaneously on German and Austrian television April 8 and 9 and had great ratings, with over 6 million viewers in Germany and a market share of 43 percent in Austria.

4. Who was the driving force behind getting the film made? How difficult was it to secure the rights to the book?

UE: The driving force undoubtedly was the producer Karl Spiehs, who never gave up. It was very difficult to reach an agreement, as the Swedish - understandably - were very protective, but Karl's stubbornness eventually succeeded.

5. I have heard from many fans of Henning Mankell who were impressed with the novel The Return of the Dancing Master. What makes it such a compelling story?

Urs Egger framing a shot. Click for larger view.UE: What attracted me first and foremost was the main character Stefan Lindman, who is younger and more energetic than Wallander and not quite as heavily burdened by the state of the world as his older colleague in Ystad is. But of course Mankell wouldn't be Mankell if this new investigator wouldn't be suffering as well - in this case from tongue cancer diagnosed right at the begin of the story. This threat puts the character into a very specific frame of mind. For Stefan, external fear doesn't exist anymore, the fear sits inside - on his tongue. A lot of his sometimes careless actions are founded in this ambiguous state.

Two people travel up north to a small god-forlorn place: Lindman, who wants to find out who's behind the brutal killing of his former mentor and partner Herbert Molin, and Molin's daughter Veronica, who arrives from Germany to bury her father. Two strangers out of place. In the heart of this novel is a father-son story: Lindman comes to realize that the man he admired and who taught him so much is not at all the man he thought he knew. This realization is very chillingly told. To some extent Stefan bonds with the daughter but she eventually turns out to be the real enemy, symbol of Sweden's Nazi past that is still alive in the present. Last but not least Mankell creates the great character Fernando Hereira, Molin's murderer. A lost figure in search of himself who gets more and more of our sympathy as the story proceeds. Hereira alias Aron Silberstein will never really find home again.

6. What is the worldwide appeal of this film? Is it mainly from readers of Henning Mankell or from the interest in modern day Nazi's?

UE: Well, first of all it is a good story, with a lot of atmosphere, and a killer who turns more and more empathic as the story progresses. Of course the film has to go beyond the Mankell readers, it was important to me to keep the readers in mind as I was preparing and shooting the film - as I am a Mankell reader myself.

7. Did having such a large international cast plus filming in Sweden make production a challenge?

UE: In fact it was one of the most harmonious shoots I can remember, I think all in all there were people from 9 nations involved in front of and behind the camera. Filmmaking is a truly international thing and is done more or less the same the world over. Especially rewarding for me was to work with so many great Scandinavian actors, only to mention Stina Ekblad or Krister Henriksson. Or Bibi Andersson: She was magnificent as Elsa Berggren, giving the character a seemingly nice, homey everyday surface - only to unravel bit by bit her horrible ideology as the story moves on.

8. How faithful is the film to the book? Did the two 90 minute episodes provide enough time to tell the story the way you wanted to?

UE: We brought in Don Bohlinger, an American screenwriter with whom I had worked before. We made two major changes regarding the original Swedish script. The first one was to put Lindman's cancer back in. The ticking clock of this threatening illness seems very important for this character and in my view adds a much stronger motivation to his actions. The other change we made was to omit the thread about Lindman's father and his involvement in the Nazi network "Strong Sweden". Given the restrictions of what a film is able to tell and the inevitable reduction of story points when adapting a novel, we felt this to be a doubling of the father theme, as Herbert Molin is already a very strong father figure. So it seemed better to have only one father.

9. What role did Henning Mankell take with the production?

UE: Mankell was not actively involved but was kept informed about the cast, locations, etc. We then sent him the rough cut and he was very pleased with it and later came to the premiere in Vienna, endorsing the film.

10. And finally, do you think we will see Stefan Lindman as a major character in future books from Henning Mankell?

UE: Henning Mankell mentioned to me that he will probably team him up with Linda Wallander in future books.

 

We would like to thank Urs for spending his time answering our questions.

 

 

  More resources for The Return of the Dancing Master:


See the online trailer