On Your Marks… Get Set… ‘Get Ready With Me’

Miriam Benthe as ‘Vendela’ in Get Ready With Me (2019)
Dir. Jonatan Etzler

Social media has changed our lives profoundly over the past decade. One important aspect is that we live more than one life: the life we display to the world and the life we keep to ourselves. Social media, however, has made creating your own mask all the easier. Get Ready With Me tells the story of a schoolteacher who tries to help a suicidal student after she films herself self-harming in a video for a class project. Frontrunner spoke to director Jonatan Etzler about the project, which made its premiere at the Göteborg International Film Festival this month.

What inspired this story?
I was working as a film teacher at a middle school in Sweden. A group of kids had made a film about suicide that they showed to the whole class on the classroom projector. I was a bit shocked and didn’t really know how to handle the situation. This moment inspired me, the screenwriters Amanda Högberg and Axel Nygren and the producer Johan Lundström to develop the story.

Due to the subject matter, were some scenes harder to film than others?
I think once you’re on a film set, everything is a lot more artificial and strange, so difficult scenes are generally not as difficult as you’d imagine them to be. We did have a lot of conversations with the children and the parents about the subject matter and the sensitive scenes, and I think it’s important to be honest and open about everything, and in every way try to make the actors feel safe and relaxed.

Can you give us some background about Vendela? And Lukas?
Well, I think Lukas is quite lonely and isolated. Maybe he’s new in town, or maybe he’s just a substitute teacher for a short while. Both of them seem to have had different psychological issues in the past. They haven’t really met or talked to each other before. Generally, I prefer letting the audience make up the backstories for the characters.

Why does Vendela call Lukas by his first name?
That’s how people talk to each other in Sweden. We stopped saying “Mr Etzler” or “Sir” in the 1960s. I didn’t actually think about this cultural difference until you brought it up. That’s interesting!

Can you explain the scene with the “bleeding” tree?
The bleeding tree is also something I’d prefer to let the audience interpret. It could be a representation of internal wounds of Lukas and Vendela, or of the world bleeding. It could also be nature warning us for the catastrophes approaching, just like in old mythological stories or romantic literature. Also, there are actually some birches that bleed for real. You can find some if you google “bleeding birch”.

What is Vendela’s motive in all this?
Well this is a spoiler, since the suspense of the film is built around this question. So if you’ve seen the film, I’d say she wants to be accepted. She wants to be seen. Swedish author Hjalmar Söderberg once wrote, “One wants to be loved, in lack thereof admired, in lack thereof feared, in lack thereof loathed and despised. One wants to instil some sort of emotion in people. The soul trembles before emptiness and desires contact at any price.” We’re living in an individualistic society and the longing for fame and recognition is stronger than ever before. Lukas also wants to be accepted into the adult world. That’s why we there’s a sense of connection between the two of them.

Was Vendela’s mother in on the pranks? Why did she buy her a new phone?
She’s the kind of mother who would yell furiously at her daughter and then instantly feel guilty about it. As you can see in the film, she immediately starts to cry and apologizes to her.

Without giving too much away, this is a plot where viewers are constantly asked to question characters’ motives; what was it like creating a story like this?
It was very interesting and very difficult to create this subtle balance. We worked for a long time with the script and the screenwriting, but still you’ll never really know it will work out in the end.

What message do you want to send to viewers?
I want people to see the world they live in. How everything’s changed since the introduction of social media. I want people to think about what it’s like to be a young person in the western world of today. I don’t want to point fingers. I think my films are generally a way to make people aware, and raise questions.

Tell us about your future projects.
I’m working on a short 10-minute film called Swimmer, which will be more of a comedy. Apart from that I’m slowly starting up two features and a TV series, projects that might happen or not. I’m very happy that we won first prize at the Student Academy Awards for Get Ready With Me. It’s created lots of opportunities in the last months, and I’m looking forward to what the future will bring.

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