‘The Dark Heart’ at the Sundance Film Festival is based on a Swedish true crime story | ParkRecord.com

‘The Dark Heart’ at the Sundance Film Festival is based on a Swedish true crime story

Sundance Film Festival is streaming the first 3 installations of this episodic series

Clara Christiansson Drake appears in “The Dark Heart” by Gustav Möller, an official selection of the Indie Episodic section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Jasper Spanning

The story of Gustav Moller’s episodic series “The Dark Heart,” which is streaming at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, is based on a true crime story that was immortalized in Joakim Palmkvist’s 2018 book of the same title.

The story follows 21-year-old Sanna, her boyfriend Marcus and missing persons investigator Tanja, who is searching for Sanna’s father.

The Shakespearean twists and turns of the story appealed to screenwriter Oskar Soderlund.

“Everything is set in this small village, and there were very clear players in that drama,” Soderlund said during a Zoom interview with director Moller. “When I read the book for the first time, I saw it had quite clear turning points plot wise. And as a writer, a clear story gives you space for the characters. So, when Gustav got attached to the project, we felt a similar feeling about what to focus on and what not to focus on.”

Moller was also attracted to the story, because it happened in Sweden.

“I am from Sweden, but I live in Denmark, and even though I haven’t made anything in Sweden before, this was the most Swedish story that I’ve ever read,” Moller said with a laugh. “The whole backdrop of the story is so inherently like the Swedish folk soul. It’s so ancient. You have people living off the land in the forest, and an old family feud. It felt like something out of the 18th or 19th century.”

Moller said Soderlund’s treatment brought the ancient story to the present.

“You have these three main characters, and the driving force for them is self-realization,” he said. “That’s the most contemporary driving force that one can have in combination with this rural and ancient aspect. And when I came on board, Oskar had already taken elements and scenes from the book that made sense. Developing this together has been organic and easy.”

The stories in the five-part series start on different timelines but converge into one, which was necessary to make it into a series, according to Soderlund.

“If you look at the time arc in the book, the Tanja character doesn’t make her entrance until two years later in the story,” he said. “And Gustav was the one who had a vision for this scene in the first episode where we show these were two different timelines. It was necessary because you want to introduce your characters in the first episode.”

“Once we did that, the different reveals came quite naturally,” Moller said. “Making that decision steered the story in a very distinct way.”

While reading the book, Soderlund had an idea about the characters’ personalities and how they would interact with each other.

“One of the first things I wrote down while reading the book was that the Marcus character was like the sun and the others were surrounding him and burning themselves,” he said. “Tanja almost creates her own obstacles, but Sanna has a clear obstacle, her father, so the story is also about these two characters forcing themselves through those obstacles, which, in Sanna’s case, leads to tragedy.”

Moller began casting the roles in his head while reading the book.

“Being Swedish I watch a lot of Swedish series and films, so there are many actors on my radar,” he said.

The first was Aliette Opheim, who plays Tanja, and then Gustav Lindh, who portrays Marcus.

“Both Gustav and Aliette are well-known in Sweden, but then I thought what could we do with this lead role of Sanna,” Moller said.

A few weeks later, Moller came across a young actor named Clara Christiansson Drake.

“Clara did a self take and knocked it out of the park,” he said. “She has this downplayed, almost deadpan weight and delivery for the character. And I think she listened to recordings of the real person her character is based on, because (what she did) is very far away from who she really is. And she is also a great contrast to the Tanja character who is so vibrant and fast-paced.”

One of the things that sets this series apart from other true-crime adaptations is the deliberate way Moller used water — rain and a scenic lake — to set the tones of some of the action.

“We cursed every time it was raining, because it sucked to be in the forest when it was raining,” the director said with a laugh. “We would shoot half a scene in sunlight and then it would start raining, and we were like, ‘Do we waste time and wait until it stops raining, or should we shoot all over from the start?’”

Still, the lake plays a pivotal part in the story, Moller said.

“While I noticed that there was a lot of rain, the whole thing about pointing to the water for clues happened when we were shooting and editing,” he said.

Moller and his crew shot the episodes as chronologically as they could, but also kept things open for adjustments.

“We followed the script very much, but the focal points of the characters were allowed to change,” he said. “That was the cool thing about shooting for such a long period and doing it in chronological order.”

Sundance 2022 logo

“The Dark Heart,” an episodic series, is screening its first three episodes during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

For information, visit festival.sundance.org.

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