Director Pål Sletaune gives U.S. moviegoers a postman worth noticing
The award-winning film “Junk Mail” is about an alienated postman who becomes tangled in a vaguely criminal underworld. (It opened Friday in New York and will widen in the coming weeks.) But don’t confuse the dark, Norwegian comedy with Kevin Costner’s infamous letter bomb, “The Postman.” In fact, don’t confuse it with any Hollywood extravaganza. “Junk Mail” is an example of the quirky films major American studios would never greenlight.
Director and co-writer Pål Sletaune thinks that given the chance, American moviegoers would flock to offbeat, character-driven films like “Junk Mail” — even though his character is a filthy, antisocial mailman who spies on a deaf woman in her apartment. But the director says that American movie execs assume filmgoers want only car chases and explosions. “Blockbusters are what audiences are used to watching, but I think they are more intelligent than Hollywood studios expect them to be,” says Sletaune, 38. “I think people want to be challenged.”
In Norway, directors have more creative freedom. There are no “studios,” and the government often subsidizes 50% to 60% of a film’s budget, with ten to fifteen movies being made a year, Sletaune estimates. “‘Junk Mail’ cost $2 million, which is kind of average,” he says. “We don’t pay stars and we don’t have American union issues that can increase a budget. I was able to make the film I wanted without having to compromise.”
Having won first prize at last year’s International Critics Week at Cannes, “Junk Mail” has garnered attention for Sletaune, but he is wary of being asked to direct by American studios, who may want to tamper with his vision. (Other foreign directors, such as New Zealander Lee Tamahori — “Mulholland Falls,” “The Edge” — have enjoyed mixed success with their American projects.) “If a producer gives me a script, I might be interested, but I’d want to retain total control,” says Sletaune. So if Kevin Costner wants someone other than himself to helm his postal sequel, he might think twice before mailing Sletaune an offer.