Unlike many Scandinavian films that look ravishingly bucolic, "The Best Intentions" shows the Swedish climate at its harshest; with winter snows set against summer sunshine, climate functions almost like a character. This was deliberate on August's part--he had also shot contrasting weathers in "Pelle the Conqueror."
"There is this big change in the seasons," he said. "It's dramatic and dark in the winter, and light and open and warm in the summer. I believe that has to affect our temperament, and why we Scandinavians are the way we are. It's part of our culture, and I wanted it to be part of this story."
The nine-month shoot might have been grueling, but the couple enjoyed it.
"For me, it was a luxury to have all the time we had," Pernilla August says now. "Apart from 'Fanny and Alexander,' I had only done a few films in Sweden, and this gave me a lot of experience in the medium." Her husband: "It was like entering some endless tunnel of discovery. It opened up the doors to some secret rooms. Had it been an American action movie, I might have felt different about the length of time it took."
Bille August, 44, worked as director of photography on a dozen Swedish films before making his directorial debut, "In My Life," in 1978. His 1984 movie "Twist and Shout," a teen buddy movie set in the Beatles' era, secured a U.S. release, and he was then involved for three years on his first epic, "Pelle the Conqueror." This story of Swedish immigrant laborers to Denmark at the end of the last century also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, as well as an Oscar for best foreign film. It made August an international name.
At the time Bergman approached him for "The Best Intentions," producer David Puttnam had persuaded August to make "The House of the Spirits," an adaptation of Chilean novelist Isabel Allende's novel, for Warner Bros. Though that deal fell through, August is now about to make the film for a German company and was in London to cast minor roles.
"It will be an international film, English-speaking, with mostly American and British actors," he said. The prospect of working in Hollywood does not faze him: "What appeals to me is the chance to reach an audience. It's possible to combine substance and entertainment--that's my goal."
He points to Milos Forman and Francis Ford Coppola as two directors who have achieved this balance, yet he is also shrewd enough to know that both men have had their setbacks in working for major studios.
"Things are probably worse now than they were then, in the '70s," August said. "Hollywood seems to be almost all lawyers now. But I feel I have the energy--I'm a member of a generation that can change things. I just can't accept that things are the way they are."
Certainly August has a more pragmatic attitude toward Hollywood than Bergman, who hated the place and resolutely stayed away. August directed an hourlong episode of "Young Indiana Jones" for ABC shot in Prague, Czechoslovakia, for executive producer George Lucas. Pernilla had a role as a German maid.
"I don't think it was a typical experience," August said. "Remember George hates Hollywood too, which is why he lives where he does (Marin County). But it was a big international crew, 160 people, and it was just like making a film in Denmark. Same pressures."
After completing "The House of the Spirits," August intends to take a break. His wife, despite her award at Cannes, which has made her a sought-after name, is already doing so--for the first time in 10 years after almost perpetual stage work. "Right now, I'm enjoying being a mother," she said firmly. "I have no plans. I'm very satisfied."
Although the couple are now highly visible players in the international film community, Copenhagen, where they have been treated like heroes since their Cannes triumph, remains their home, although Pernilla has kept her apartment in Stockholm.
"We've been living like Gypsies for a while, but need a base, and we can make our trips from there," he said. She agrees: "It's important for us not to lose what we have. Our roots are at home, and we want to hang on to them."