Denis Lavant Boards Swedish Project from Ruben Östlund Producer (EXCLUSIVE)

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Swedish producer Erik Hemmendorff, Ruben Östlund’s regular production partner at Plattform Produktion, has attached “Holy Motors” star Denis Lavant for the sophomore pic from John Skoog, which has the Swedish working title of “Värn” (”Redoubt”).

Hemmendorff was also behind the Sundance-selected pic “Pleasure” by Ninja Thyberg, which screens at this week’s Norwegian Intl. Film Festival in Haugesund as well as its adjoining New Nordic Films confab (Aug.24-27).

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Known for his poetic works, grounded in the nature and stories from his native Scania, southern Sweden, Skoog scooped the DOX:Award at Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX Fest in 2019 for his hybrid debut feature ”Ridge.”

Currently in pre-production, “Värn” marks the feature length version of the helmer’s short film “Reduit” (“Redoubt”) which won Göteborg’s Starladden short film prize and a prestigious Bâloise Art Prize in 2015. Over the last 10 years, Skoog has researched and used as a prime source of inspiration the life of the local eccentric Karl-Göran Persson, a farm labourer turned Cold War prepper who spent 30 years building a fortress until his death in 1975.

Both the larger-than-life Persson and the building of the fortress itself will be main characters in the feature project, to be shot on black and white 35mm film stock.

Leos Carax’s regular collaborator, Denis Lavant, known for the physicality of his roles, will play the legendary Swede. “We needed someone with a body language striking enough to captivate an audience for at least 90 minutes,” Hemmendorff told Variety. “Denis is a living legend, the dream casting, and he wants to do it,” the producer confirmed, arguing that language won’t be an issue. “Denis will only have a few words of Scanian dialect to memorize, as the film will be visually-driven, with little dialogue.”

Beyond the fascinating human portrait and his extraordinary fortress, to be rebuilt by production designer Denis Shibanov (“DAU”), the feature will contain a topical and relevant message.

According to Hemmendorff, what triggered Karl-Göran to build his fortress was the Swedish government’s defence pamphlet “Om kriget kommer” (lit.”If War Comes”), sent to Swedish households between 1943 to 1991 to help them prepare for conflict, then re-issued in 2018 under the title “If Crisis or War Comes.” “Many people relate to the sense of threat, created by the current pandemic and climate crisis, which makes this project highly topical,” Hemmendorff said.

The producer of the Palme d’Or winner “The Square” is planning to stage the project as a Swedish-Danish-French-Polish co-production. Danish production house Masterplan Pictures, Plattform’s partners on Östlund’s highly-anticipated ”Triangle of Sadness,” is confirmed as a co-producer.

”I believe it will be an engaging, visually strong feature for an international audience, although very much Swedish, both in its theme and landscape,” continued Hemmendorff, who anticipates filming to start in 2022.

Reflecting on the effects of the pandemic on his overall slate, the producer said that lensing on Woody Harrelson vehicle “Triangle of Sadness” was delayed by more than six months due to COVID-19. Delivery is now rescheduled for Spring 2022. “We’re making best use of the extra time in the editing room,” he said.

Hemmendorff’s co-production and 2021 Cannes competition entry “Bergman’s Island,” by Mia Hansen-Løve, was also delayed by COVID-19. “It was a long process, from production to final release, and being in Cannes this year was extremely rewarding,” said the Swedish producer.

Meanwhile Ninja Thyberg’s feature debut “Pleasure,” which was selected as a 2020 Cannes Label title, is slated to open in France in September and in Sweden on Oct. 8, before rolling out in other territories. Off the heels of its lauded launch at Sundance in January, the drama, which is set in the L.A. porn business, was sold by Versatile to multiple territories including MUBI for a handful of major European territories. Thyberg has since signed with CAA.

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