“People can die without love.”
The boy is unloved. Magnus has the dead expression of depression as he walks around his Estonian town, stopping in on his selfish vulgar mother, a big mini-skirted woman in red lipstick who could not care less, and then trailing behind his charismatic dad as the big man romps with two prostitutes, exposing rolls of flesh. His own teenage sister, in chipper tone, commends him when he decides to commit suicide: “Ah you’re finally going to do it. Ciao!”
Kadri Kousaar’s debut feature Magnus, screened at Cannes, shows brutally what it means to live without love: no life at all. Magnus walks across the fields and hangs himself.
The twist of this film is twofold: one, the father allows his son to commit suicide, agreeing with him that death is better than misery. And two: that the father in the film is played by the boy’s real father.
This is a true story.
Mart Laisk, who plays Magnus’ father, did let his 17-year-old son go: he stood at the edge of the field while his son walked into the forest with a rope. Later he found the dead hanging body. Yes, that was a shock, he said, the actual hanging body.
At the time,” he explained. “I thought it was the best thing. The boy was suffering so much. And I myself knew what it meant to suffer. I was depressed all through my thirties. I thought my son was making a good decision.”
“The boy had got no love,” he explained. “Not from me or his mother. I did not know how to love then. And this is hard on a child.”
Mart Laisk is a lively big man, with randy hair flying in front of his face, and warm gesturing hands. He learned much from his son’s death. It was not a meaningless death, he says. A real estate entrepreneur, he now has a second wife and a new baby: a new chance to love. Dressed in all white, linen pants and jacket, he glowed as the sun beamed down on us on the pier of the Majestic Hotel in Cannes.
“I am a mystic,” he explained. “I believe in God, and in the journey of truth. I have had what are called peak experiences, where I feel concerned about everything in the world. Now that I have my new baby, I have compassion for starving children. I cannot stand thinking of them suffering.”
Perhaps he had not known how to love before because his father, a scientist, had lost his own father when he was ten: he was cold and sneering in his work. “Also after the end of the Soviet Union, everyone was running after money to have better cars. We forgot values; people can die without love, from the lack of protection. When you are consuming, and think only about money, you are killing yourself. The world does not love.”
But Mart is a happy man now: very positive. His son’s death helped teach him something. Even the making of this film has God in it. It means others will learn from his son’s death.
And Mart has a second chance.
“But your son had no second chance,” I noted.
“No,” said Mart. “But I have no regrets. I let him go because I wanted him to do so, then. We can only look at the future. The future is only potential, with many possibilities. The freedom of being human is to make up the future.”
Mart gave me a big warm hug there on the pier of the Majestic Hotel.
The film’s British producer, David Fernandez, sat down. He seemed hidden under his black google baseball hat and dark glasses. He was wearing a black t-shirt with brown cigars on it, quite dark for the sunlight that streamed on the Mediterranean pier.
“Why did you finance this film?” I asked.
“The theme touched me. I met Kadri in a bar in London, you know, one of these bars that you pay 50 pounds to go and meet people in the film industry. Yeah, another crock of shit they give you. Kadri and I were the only ones in the industry there!”
“Well, it did WORK for you, actually — even if you were the only two”
“Yeah, guess so.”
“You invested 100,000 pounds of your own money in this film. That’s a big investment. Why did her project touch you? Did you relate?”
“Absolutely. The outsider theme touched me, like chords on a musical instrument. There’s no room for losers in our society. Nobody can be bothered.”
Kadri walked by — a blonde young woman, tall and radiant — and leaned down at our table and said: “Can I take these?”
She took his sunglasses off, and exposed two sad dark hazel eyes, a bit vulnerable in the sun.
“Do you feel you are an outsider yourself?”
“Yes, I do. Look, now that I am at Cannes, people are wanting to talk to me. But who would talk to me before this film? Yeah, I don’t think anybody really cares about me. Not really. That is the way people are, you know. Selfish.”
“You must feel some people care about you.”
“Don’t you think you might have a negative attitude, maybe imprinted too hard? Look at Magnus’ father. He is quite happy. He believes life gets more positive.”
“Yeah, he’s all jolly now this year because of his new kid and wife.”
“And you? Don’t you want the same for yourself?”
“Oh come on. Look, this film happened for you.”
“Yeah, I am pessimistic. It got only one review, a bad one in Hollywood Reporter.(Eds. note: There have been many positive reviews since this interview, including one in Variety.) Let’s see if anyone writes anything about it. Let’s see if it touches anyone.”
“It already touched several hundred people here at Cannes.”
David Fernandez’s eyes flickered gold for a second, and then seeped into dark brown again. The publicist came by and announced our time was up; it was Kadri’s turn. The producer got up saying: “If you want to continue this conversation, please call me at this number. Or email me. I am around all week.”
He wrote several contact numbers down in careful black handwriting.
Kadri was the synthesis of Magnus and the producer: the artist who swung it all together.
“Are you an Aries?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “How did you know?” She sat down and pulled her sunglasses over her eyes. Her hair streamed back in the breeze as she crocked open her legs, and beamed a big smile. She explained she had been quite exceptional in Estonia, at age 26 with this first film, but already before that, she had been the youngest DJ on the Estonian radio station, and had won a prize in high school for her painting. She also wrote film criticism and literary reviews for the Estonian Weekly. She had also written two novels already.
Being a film director was a new idea. As a child, she had thought about being a doctor like her mother, but she was too wild for that.
“Why this project?” I asked. “You seem to have suffered none of the pain of Magnus. I imagine you come from quite a supportive family — is that true?”
“Yes, I come from a very loving family. My parents have sacrificed everything for me. It is so bizarre that anything — work, money — can matter more than kids. I am thinking of having a child now myself, so the idea that a parent would let his child go: how can you accept that? But I met Magnus’ father a couple years ago and his story so touched me, I wanted to make this film. It occurred to me that I have always just wanted to make films.”
“Your mother seems a great role model.”
“My mother gives me the strength to deal. My mother is a big example for me. She helps people in her profession. She heals hundreds of patients. People trust and confess to her. She is so extraverted in her diagnosis to her patients. She will tell a fat lady: ‘Look, you’re fat if you are eating two sandwiches here in the office!'”
“So your mother taught you a constructive sort of empathy?”
“Exactly! Yes, constructive empathy. This is why I made that film. I see mothers shouting at their children all the time in the streets. It makes me upset. I am so lucky, with my mother, it makes me appreciate the difference. Love is so important. My mother had a patient, a young man, who wanted to commit suicide. She said, ‘You should watch my daughter’s film.'”