‘A Tiger in Paradise’ Director Mikel Cee Karlsson on His Portrait of Folk Singer José González

Oscar-nominated and double Palme d’Or winning film company Plattform Production (“Triangle of Sadness,” “The Square”) has premiered its latest film, “A Tiger in Paradise,” by director and editor Mikel Cee Karlsson, as part of a live event that received a standing ovation at CPH:DOX, one of Europe’s leading documentary film festivals.

Set in the picturesque Swedish countryside, the doc takes viewers on a surreal journey into the inner world of Swedish indie folk singer-songwriter José González.

Peppered with songs from his latest album “Local Valley,” introspective musings, self-deprecation and playful special effects involving moving portraits, looping techniques and Conway’s famous Game of Life computation model, the film opens with a disarmingly candid disclosure by González about his past mental health issues.

Karlsson tells Variety: “We used José’s mental illness as a jumping off point, in a way, to discuss themes that both of us think are really interesting. We read a lot of the same books. We have lot of philosophical discussions when we meet. So we used it as a way to talk about those ideas and beliefs, why they matter and how they influence the way we interact with the world.”

A former PhD student in biochemistry, González stopped working on his thesis in 2003 when his music career took off, but maintains a fervent interest in science and is an outspoken atheist – themes that are omnipresent in his lyrics and in the film, which he narrates.

Karlsson and González have been collaborating for years – Karlsson directed many of González’s music videos and co-helmed “The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of José González” in 2010, a video-diary feature focusing on the singer-songwriter’s creative process in the lead-up to his second album “In Our Nature.”

The pair are in Copenhagen to promote the film as part of a live show, featuring a screening of the doc, a fireside chat-style conversation between them and live performances by González. The show is scheduled to tour Europe, Australia and the U.S. in the fall, according to Karlsson.

The idea, he says, is to get people back into theaters – in his own country, Sweden, cinema attendance was still 35% below pre-pandemic figures last year, with the top ten dominated by U.S. titles.

“We have a responsibility to create something that’s worth seeing live. I totally understand that it’s easy to sit at home, with a big TV screen and great sound, so that can’t be a selling point anymore. People used to go to the theater because that was the best way to experience a film: we need to do something that’s going to be a unique experience for people,” he says.

The Copenhagen crowd responded enthusiastically to the event, during which the pair engaged in conversation on a wide range of topics about the human condition, including González’s pet themes of secular humanism – or what he calls “the non-existence of gods” – eco-modernism, and effective altruism.

Counterbalancing these philosophical contemplations, the show was laced with humorous references and visuals to illustrate their points, including some Jehovah’s Witness depictions of Paradise, featuring the film’s titular tiger.

“Utopia is one of the themes we like to think about. What do people imagine when they think of Utopia?,” asks González.

“We might not believe in gods, but we might still have ideas of what a perfect future could be, and that could also be a type of delusion,” he says, referring to what he used to experience when he suffered from psychosis. “People can have really weird ideas of what [Utopia] is. That’s why it’s interesting to see that once you start trying to learn a lot, you’re still faced with a lot of uncertainties about the future – and this relates to the song “Visions” where I sing about the unreachable Utopias.”

“Visions,” from his new album, was one of half a dozen titles performed by González, which met with delight from fans attending the event in Copenhagen, where the film had its world premiere on March 18. “A Tiger in Paradise” is competing in the main Dox:Award section.

Plattform Production is also presenting its Sundance winning doc “And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine” in the Highlights Section, the debut feature by Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck, edited by Karlsson and exec produced by Erik Hemmendorff and Ruben Östlund.

CPH:DOX runs in Copenhagen from March 15 through March 26.

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