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SLETAUNE, PAL: Junk Mail

THE POSTMAN WHO DOESN’T KNOCK TWICE (OR EVEN ONCE)
Norwegian filmmaker Pal Sletaune has made his first feature film about a fictional postman but the character came first and the occupation second, he tells PAUL FISCHER.

The first thing Norwegian director Pal Sletaune has to say about his critically acclaimed first feature, Junk Mail, is that he hopes audiences don't confuse his dark postal comedy with the less intentionally comic disaster, The Postman. "God, I hope they don't, or I'm really in trouble," Sletaune quips.

His dark and wry view of urban Oslo revolves around Roy (Robert Skjaerstad), an unusual postman who reads other people's mail, throws out what he doesn't feel like carrying, and is disliked by everyone. He is a pathetic postman, a morose mailman who leaves his dirty dishes in the sink for weeks, eats whatever is available, likely to be canned spaghetti, and like a terrier, puts in his mouth assorted objects he comes across which belong to other people - chocolate, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, even sedative capsules.

Roy is not a nice person. Verbally abused in the mail room (one bully of a co-worker taunts him by asking rhetorically, "What are you good at?"), he takes out his frustrations by regularly dumping all the junk mail in a subway tunnel and opening what looks like love letters.

"While he might appear to be a bit of a cockroach, he has a certain innocence about him."

When he picks up a set of keys left in a mailbox by its attractive owner, Line (Andrine Saether), he enters her home and stumbles into an adventure which alters the course of his life. Sletaune agrees, and indeed hopes that Junk Mail presents a twisted view of contemporary Norwegian society. "If that's what you think, I'm glad."

Creating the sleazy postman, Roy, was easy, since he's based on characters like that in the director's own life. "He's the kind of mixed up character I know, but there's also a lot of invention as well as a bit of my co-writer in this character." The film has had extraordinary reactions, winning firstly the prestigious critics' prize at Cannes last year, before winning plaudits at other international festivals. "I was surprised to what extent audiences could identify with this guy, until I realised that while he might appear to be a bit of a cockroach, he has a certain innocence about him. In a way, he's a child."

"I insisted on shooting the film in my own neighbourhood."

Sletaune didn't set out to make a film specifically about a postal worker; the character came first. "His occupation came second. When we were discussing this character, we realised that a postman would be perfect for both his personality and a kind of amateur detective, which he ultimately becomes." Despite the film's darkly comic view of the postal service, Sletaune hastens to add that Oslo's actual postal service gave his film the thumbs up. "They absolutely loved it. We had special screenings for them, and they all felt it was an accurate portrait of themselves - up to a point."

While many Scandinavian films take advantage of the famous geographical vistas of the country, there's none of that in Junk Mail, Sletuane preferring to utilise the less attractive working class milieu of Oslo. "I wanted to be as real as possible, so I insisted on shooting the film in my own neighbourhood."

"I'd like the challenge to eventually shoot an English-language film, as I long as I have control over what I do."

After a career as a highly regarded director of short films, Sletaune confesses that the transition from short to feature film in his native Norway was tough. "It was difficult, because a feature is so much bigger, and so much time is involved." But despite the dark nature of the material, raising government money to get the film off the ground remained surprisingly easy. "The head of the state financing body was fortunately a great supporter of my short films, so he positively supported this project from the start."

With the acclaim Junk Mail has had around the world, it's not surprising that he's had feelers from Hollywood, but he's in no hurry. "I'd like the challenge to eventually shoot an English-language film, as I long as I have control over what I do." In the meantime, Sletaune is writing his next film, which he says "will have a similar dark touch to Junk Mail.

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