Jonatan Etzler’s short film Intercourse tells the story of a young couple whose relationship is changed after a passing joke leads to a financial transaction in the bedroom.
Ahead of the film’s screening at the UK Film Festival (20 November), Jonatan joins us to talk about power structures in relationships, directing sex scenes, reactions to his film and more.
Q: ‘Intercourse’ will screen as part of the UK Film Festival next week. What sparked the idea of this rather awkward and perspective altering interaction between a young couple?
A: I was interested in power structures in relationships and how the structures of society influence our private relationships.
I was also interested in how transactions have become a part of relationships and I wanted to show that even intimacy can become a commodity. Usually when I come up an idea, I start with a realistic setting and real characters and then I add an absurd element to it. In this case it was the sudden introduction of payment for sex. I haven’t experienced this situation, but when I had the idea it was very easy to write the script.
Q: This is an extremely intimate role for Amalia Holm Bjelke and Marcus Vögeli. How did you approach it with them and what did they bring to the role?
A: We did a lot of castings and finally I found Amalia and Marcus. It was important to me that they felt comfortable doing the scenes. If they wouldn’t have been comfortable with it we wouldn’t have done it in this way.
This is the first time I’ve directed a sex scene, which was an interesting experience. The actors rehearsed the scene with clothes on, and then we made a ”choreography” of their motions.
It went something like this: ”Marcus puts it in, Marcus is on camera left side, Amalia laughs, Marcus goes to the right side and lowers his left hand, Amalia takes his hand and puts it on her breast, Amalia puts her hands on his buttocks, Marcus left hand goes down to the left…” and so on.
Doing a choreography like this makes it a lot easier and less stressful for the actors because then they’ll know exactly what to expect. We also hired a special costume designer, Sofi Gregersdotter, to cover the actors genitals with tape and cloth.
The actual shooting was quite fun. The first take was too “sexy”, which we didn’t want, so Marcus had to exaggerate his clumsiness a lot. He had to put his legs together and I forbade him to make any smooth movements. He was only allowed to move in staccato.
After the shooting he was scared that people would think that he was actually like this in bed.
The most important thing about making a sex scene is that the actors feel comfortable. Anything else would be morally wrong for me as a director, and also if they’re not comfortable, they won’t be able to act in a natural way in front of the camera.
Q: I love the level of detail in this short, from the facial expressions to the set design of a bloody condom and wallet above the bed in one scene. How important for you is it to have that level of detail and intricacy in your work?
A: I think it’s important to put a lot of effort into making a film, and that if you work a lot with the details it will enrich the experience of watching the film. Intercourse is a film that examines some subtle human emotions and things that we say between the lines.
What’s great about a film camera is that it can pick up all these things. You see every little nuance of their emotions.
Q: The film has won acclaim at festivals and received over 500,000 views on Vimeo. What have you made of the response to ‘Intercourse’?
A: It has been interesting to show it to audiences because I think this is a film that divides people. It’s not easy picking who to sympathise with and it also changes throughout the film.
Some people on Vimeo have responded saying things like: “women are evil and all they do is manipulate men”, which is of course not at all what I want to say. Quite the opposite in fact. I was a bit surprised by this, but it’s also a risk you take as a filmmaker when you make a film that doesn’t spell out the message in a simplified way.
Some people have made really interesting analyses and the response has been very positive as a whole. It has been great to show the film to audiences and I’m excited to hear the response of UK audiences.
Q: You recently graduated from the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. What/who have been some of the biggest influences on your work?
A: I would say Michael Haneke, Todd Solondz, Lars von Trier, Paul Thomas Anderson and many, many more. I watch a lot of films and I’m constantly influenced. There’s also been some great films recently by Swedish directors – most recently Holiday by Isabella Eklöf.
Q: The trailer for ‘Get Ready With Me’ looks incredible. What can you tell us about it?
A: It’s my thesis film from film school. Everybody worked really hard on it for more than a year and we just won the Student Academy Award in Los Angeles, which is amazing.
It is about a very difficult situation escalating into something even more difficult. We worked with themes like social media, suicide and teen angst. I’m very happy with the result and I hope we get to show it at festivals soon!
Q: Can you share any of your ambitions for the future?
A: I’m working on a new short called Swimmer. It’s about a police arrest at a public swimming pool. It’s a very interesting situation and it’s gonna be a fun film. I also have some larger projects that are all in the early stages of development – two features and a TV series.