The whimsical world of furniture stores has always held an inexplicable charm. It’s like stepping into a life-size dollhouse or a home from a distant memory. Have you ever walked through an IKEA showroom and wondered what it would be like to spend a night in one of those perfectly staged rooms? For many, these stores are places of intrigue and wonder.
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In “Mother, Couch,” the debut feature film directed by Swedish filmmaker Niclas Larsson, this sense of wonder and surrealism takes center stage. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the movie combines an ensemble cast featuring Ewan McGregor, Ellen Burstyn, Taylor Russell, and Rhys Ifans with an unusual setting to explore themes of motherhood, family, and growing up.
A Magical Realism Odyssey
“Mother, Couch” unfolds in a nameless American furniture store where Mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) embarks on a quest for the perfect couch. However, when she finds the ideal piece, she refuses to leave it, inadvertently holding her three estranged children, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, Rhys Ifans, and Lara Flynn Boyle, captive in the store. Amidst this bizarre situation, store managers Bella (Taylor Russell) and twins Marcus and Marco (F. Murray Abraham) try to maintain their composure as tensions rise.
The film’s outlandish narrative is based on the book “Mamma I Soffa” by Jerker Virdborg. Larsson’s inspiration for the movie was sparked during the pandemic, as he found himself captivated by the concept of an elderly mother trapped in a couch. He recognized the absurdity and depth within this scenario, driving him to transform it into a feature film.
Exploring Complex Themes
“Mother, Couch” delves into themes of motherhood, complex family relationships, and the mysteries hidden within our pasts. Larsson explains that as people grow older, they become aware of the “tiny knives” life has used to wound them. While he acknowledges the goodness in his own childhood, he aimed to create a film that reflected life’s intricate shades of gray, where absurdity coexists with confusion, humor, and tragedy.
Drawing inspiration from cinematic legends like Buñuel and Fellini, Larsson sought to blend the modernist and postmodernist approaches with elements of magical realism. However, he admits to revisiting beloved early-aughts comedies like “Freaky Friday” and “13 Going on 30” for inspiration. He appreciates how these films skillfully weave elements of magical realism into their narratives, leaving a profound impact on audiences.
Crafting a Transforming Space
The film’s setting, the furniture store, undergoes a remarkable transformation throughout the story. As the characters grapple with their past and confront their emotions, the store evolves, reflecting their internal journeys. Larsson’s meticulous approach to storytelling is evident in his “Storm Book,” a detailed guide that outlines every aspect of the film’s narrative evolution. This resource ensured that the film’s visual and emotional progress remained coherent.
An Unexpected Blend of Realism and Magic
While Larsson’s influences span from classic filmmakers to early-2000s comedies, his film “Mother, Couch” effectively captures a unique blend of strange realism. Larsson humorously notes that “Freaky Friday” could easily be seen as a horror film, given its premise of body-swapping with one’s mother. He finds inspiration in the way these films embrace the uncanny and push boundaries.
The Metaphorical Flood Scene
One of the film’s most striking scenes, the climactic flood, was not present in the book but added for emotional impact. Larsson wanted to convey the overwhelming feeling of grief and loss. The flood serves as a metaphorical representation of this emotion, engulfing the characters in its dark depths. While unconventional, Larsson believes it accurately captures the essence of grief and authenticity, which he deems essential in filmmaking.
Casting the Perfect Ensemble
For his debut feature, Larsson assembled a stellar ensemble cast. Ellen Burstyn was his first choice to portray Mother, a character he describes as both terrifying and captivating. Convincing Burstyn to take on the role was a challenge, but Larsson’s promise to avoid reshoots or additional recording sessions ensured she wouldn’t have to inhabit the character beyond filming.
Taylor Russell, who plays Bella, brought an intriguing mix of sweetness and unease to her character. Larsson saw Russell as the ideal fit for Bella, someone who could be both charming and unsettling, much like an angel.
Crafting the Unconventional Store
While IKEA is mentioned in the film, Larsson’s goal was to create a store vastly different from the retail giant. The production team scouted various locations in North Carolina but ultimately decided to construct the store themselves. They drew inspiration from various stores, incorporating unique elements like an exterior staircase.
What’s Next for Niclas Larsson?
As Larsson basks in the reception of his debut film, he contemplates his next move. He hints at a potential project exploring his “daddy issues,” suggesting that audiences can anticipate a deeply personal and introspective journey in his future work.
In “Mother, Couch,” Niclas Larsson has introduced audiences to a world where the mundane and the magical intertwine, where familial bonds are tested and rediscovered. With a touch of surrealism and a dash of humor, Larsson’s debut is a testament to the power of storytelling and the ability to find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places.