• Golden Globe Awards

Tigers (Sweden): In Conversation with Ronnie Sandahl

The world of professional soccer has always thrived on the talents of superstars like Pele, Beckham, Messi, and Renaldo. But the search is always on for the next big talent.
Tigers is the story of Swedish wunderkind Martin Bengtsson, who was signed initially at age 15 by the club Orebro SK before moving to Serie A Club Inter Milan. As gifted an athlete the young man was, the mental pressures eventually caught up with him as he faced the ruthless pursuit for success.
Ronnie Sandahl, who previously helmed the psychological drama Borg Vs McEnroe, once again found a story to examine the loneliness of the professional athlete.
How did you stumble upon Martin’s story? Is it part of the Swedish legacy?
Yes, it’s quite a famous story in Sweden. Actually, I came across it the first time when Martin Bengtsson released his autobiography and it happened to be the same Spring that I released my first novel. So, we were kind of the kids on the book tour, and we were in our early 20s. I had dreams of making a film, I was just about to make my short films, there were no real prospects for me to put his story on the big screen at that point. But we made a drunken pact that he would say no to all other offers and wait for me when I was good enough when I felt ready to make the film about his life I would do it. So, I did a couple of shorts and a couple of features in between but then I felt like it was time to approach this story.
How much did you need his actual involvement when making the film?
For me, it was quite simple because he was so extremely generous. And also, we became friends over this period of time. He only had one rule basically, which was to do what was best for the film, make the best film possible and take whatever liberties you want to take. I wanted us to create our own Martin Bengtsson. I got all this background story and I got so much more than what was in the book. So, it’s quite far away from the book because his autobiography was written so shortly after he left the football world, so you had some time to think after that, which was good, and I think also maybe the timing was good now that people are ready for this kind of film set in the world of sport. Maybe five, ten years ago that would not have been possible.

The movie portrays an interesting paradox between youthful enthusiasm and dreams and the harshness of the adult business world.
I am portraying business most of all, an industry where young athletes become commodities on the market. Obviously, no one goes into sports as a kid thinking “I am going to be a millionaire”, I mean you go in because you love the sport, you go in because you love soccer or baseball, whatever you are playing. And then the absolute top, 00.1 percent or something is so good that they can make a living out of it.  And then very few of them can become these commodities on the market where people can make a lot of money on them. It was something extremely interesting what happens to a 16-year-old athlete’s human value the second his financial value rises? My theory is that the human value lowers.
And for sure that is what happened with the real Martin Bengtsson. I wanted to portray this kind of dehumanization of this world, where when you get a price tag, you lose a certain part of yourself.
What was intriguing is that you didn’t focus too much on the physicality of the sport, what it does to the body, but more on the psyche, the spirit.
Even when we are on the pitch, it’s quite subjective with him, and we are mirroring his psychology through the action sequences as well. So, for me, it was always the idea with this film to make it as subjective as possible. Also, when it comes to sound design and cinematography and how do we really portray his extreme loneliness, I mean that was always the core for me. But it was also always important to remember that this is also a kind of coming-of-age film because he has a lot of firsts in this film.  His first love, it’s the first time he moves away from home, it’s the first time being abroad.