We Are Different Now by M. Nilsson, K. Hiorthøy, G. Heilborn and the concept of series

We Are Different Now, the Swedish six-episode series by Mårten Nilsson, Kim Hiorthøy and Gunilla Heilborn, is one of the strangest programmes a public television channel could ever commission and broadcast. It is a funny series – even though nobody laughs or intends to be amusing – made up of mysterious and strange characters, absurd situations and surreal dialogue. The directors and actors have created ongoing expectations as the episodes unravel. The characters – a group of four debatable activists preparing for an undefined “mission” – behave as if something grand, serious or perhaps catastrophic were about to happen. But in the end, nothing occurs, and this is the peculiar thing about this unique TV series that may amuse part of the audience but also disappoint those anticipating some real action.

At the beginning, we meet a 30-something man, a next-door type of guy who goes into a house, where a woman is waiting for him. She gives him some instructions: the man has a secret mission to accomplish and has to meet other people and lead them towards the task. Once alone in his garret, the man is visibly nervous – the job seems very risky. Perhaps he is to carry out a terrorist attack, a political one – the viewer can only guess. The day after, he meets the others, another 30-something man and two female colleagues. There is a palpable tension in the air as if something big were on the cards... 

In the following episodes, the team members read maps, make plans, discuss things, sigh deeply and nervously, and start ridiculous training sessions. In one of them, they have to run and arrive at the finish line as soon as possible while carrying a cake. They train together, all dressed in the same shirts. The exercise does not appear very effective or professional, but is actually quite funny. They rent a building, a big warehouse where they can live together and make lots of noise, as they say. They even organise a housewarming, a rather ridiculous party complete with crisps, party hats and melancholic music – but with no other guests, of course. From time to time, the leader of the group makes visits to the mysterious lady to report on how the mission is going. She usually welcomes him dressed in an elegant, long, blue, lace dress, with the price tag still hanging off the back of it. 

We Are Different Now is about the relationship between these four people, the way they train themselves up physically, psychologically and socially. Many of the dialogues don’t make much sense, and it’s hilarious to watch them pretend to use a strict and analytical language even when talking about the ingredients in a sandwich. The chaotic scenes and dialogues defy the concept of the typical TV action series that we are used to, in which the heroes know what they are doing and adhere to a predefined structure. 

Mårten Nilsson explained to the audience at the Hamburg Short Film Festival  (2-9 June 2014) – where the series was screened in its entirety – that the actors really didn’t know what they were doing. There was no screenplay, and each time the actors and directors managed to meet and shoot scenes, they improvised without knowing what they would have to shoot next time. The shoot went on for four years because of each individual’s commitments. Mårten Nilsson, Kim Hiorthøy and Gunilla Heilborn had already worked together in The Lodge and This is Alaska. Both short films dealt with groups of people and the way in which characters successfully manage to live together and relate to each other. Usually all alone in nature, the trio's characters always find a certain level of freedom, as in We Are Different Now, where people’s actions – those of the actors and the characters – do not follow a fixed or foreseeable structure, but are instinctive, natural and true. 

We Are Different Now was commissioned by the Swedish television channel SVT, which screened it, one episode per week, just before Game of Thrones. At festivals, the seriesis being screened in one slot lasting 45 minutes. The Hamburg Short Film Festival selected it in international competition as part of the Descending Sequence slot, together with Laure Prouvost’s Wantee, Sandro Aguilar’s Dive: Approach and Exit, and Douwa Dijkstra’s Démontable

The Hamburg Short Film Festival dedicated ample space to the concept of series. Besides the short films, it organised the panel Continue – Wiederholung und Variation: Das Prinzip des Serie (Repetition and Variation: the Serial Principle). The aim of the panel was to analyse the concept of series as a form of repetition in films and in the arts. To this end, an interesting and varied group of speakers was invited: Christine Blättler (managing director of the Department of Philosophy, University of Kiel), Bernhard Gleim (managing editor for film, family and serials at NDR – North German Broadcasting Corporation), Thomas Mohr (video artist), Stefanie Plappert (freelance curator at the German Film Museum in Frankfurt) and Mårten Nilsson. 

The entire panel is available to watch here.

08 September 2014, by Fran Royo