Nordic Film Days: Søren Malling & Christina Rosendahl

CS: The book was your key inspiration for this film. How important was it to you to stay true to this story?

CR: I think I wanted to stay very true to the story and also – we have been working with the characters that also exist in reality and we have been shooting places that exist in reality so we try to incorporate the real elements into the fiction. I’m trying to be very truthful and this is also why the film has all this archived material. Of course my vision is the story that I want to tell and I think that using film art and the film language is a way for me to express this material. I have been asking myself how much we should allow the people to keep things in secret when we are facing a great threat and it’s not an easy question to answer.

CS: There have been a lot of films about war. Why do you think these films are being released in such a big amount?

SM: What I do know, for instance, is if we talk about A War by Tobias Lindholm, he was inspired by some cases where officers from the insider force were taken to court and he read about it so he went to court to follow these cases and see what was going on. And for a long period he was asking himself ‘why don’t we talk about that we are in a situation where we are part of a war?’ And we have been like that since under the UN flag under Iraq and than Afghanistan. And now we are also in Syria. On a daily basis we don’t talk about the situation that we are being very aggressive a long way from home. And sometimes it’s democracy. We want other people to take over and make a democracy. And he asked himself that and he went to me as well to talk about that situation. He was inspired by the case where a Danish officer was taken home according to the Geneva convention he was accused of doing war crimes and he was given 24 years in jail.

There were two other cases where they couldn’t find out who did what. But why now? I don’t know. I think the best answer to your question would be that we are in a dangerous situation. We are taking action in wars around the world but we don’t talk about it. So for a filmmaker it is a great talking point to write a story about. This is Denmark in 2015.

CS: Why did you choose to make it into a feature film?

CR: Because I would like the audience to talk about Brink [main character]. Since he’s not alive anymore we would have to create a character that was for him. That was one reason. The other is that I think that I wanted the story to have a great impact on the audience. I wanted the Danish community to debate this film and talk about it and I wanted it to be a big thing and I think that when you make a feature film with big stars and people go to the cinema and watch it on the big screen it has a bigger impact. Because it’s a political film, combining this with an entertaining story is something that is for fiction films.

CS: Søren, how did you get involved with the film?

SM: I read the script and I knew about the case with the so-called Thule site. From my teenage years I’d heard about it. What it was actually about I totally forgot. When I read the script I was actually in shock. It seems like everybody forgot what took place in Greenland. And Poul Brink, who wrote the book, I couldn’t remember him from my teenage years. He was a TV host and he was reading the news. So I had to think – is this for real? Is this really what happened? Wow! There’s probably a bomb under the ice. So I was very interested in the project. We walked along the canal, talked a bit. Christina’s a beautiful girl with a great sense of humour and I like her very much.

CR: The first three times we met we walked for two hours and we didn’t talk about the film. We talked about politics and art and how it is to be a human being.

SM: The way the script touched me is that democracy is based on trust. At least, in my point of view, anyway. When politicians start to lie or hiding information for me as a human being living in the so-called best democracy in Denmark, it starts to collapse. It’s a very important story to tell in that sense. To say that wow – we can do this.

CS: So you use your frustration and emotion about this case when you had to play your character as well?

SM: I was all in shock and frustrated about the whole case, that was one thing. That’s what made it an interesting project. The other side is very concrete when it comes to working with the character. In this case he was alive – he was alive when we met and Christina met him many times. I didn’t know he was alive but she told me. The story is also his story. In the script I couldn’t see the character. Yes he had some lines but I hadn’t seen a picture of Marius Schmidt. Christina asked if I wanted to meet him and become inspired by him but I said no thank you. I don’t want to meet the guy because the character in the script is the character I would find in myself. We had a great issue about going back in time and making things look old. Period films, for me, is a little bit ahhh – wow. I need to wear some funny clothes, big glasses, a funny haircut, everything. To talk about his glasses, I saw some pictures and *whistles*his glasses were huge! When you look at it it’s like this is a comedy. We insisted on ‘okay lets go for it’ and when we see the final product I’m glad to say I had the guts to say ‘give me these huge glasses’.

CS: Danish political dramas seem to do very well overseas. Did you have an international audience in mind when you created the film?

CR: Yes, of course. I don’t think I think about audiences as a national thing. I’m trying to connect through the films with the human side of us all. I think that, of course, the Scandinavian people will know about Greenland and they will have ideas about the Danish democracy that is challenged in the film but I think I was just showing it in France and the US and I think all countries have these kinds of stories. None of us want to be lied to or be in the dark so I think there is a universal story of truth that connects with audiences everywhere. The director always wants as big as possible a audience as it can get so I say well done to the films.

CS: Did you work with the United States on this project?

CR: Yes what happened was what we had some discussions with the US embassy in Copenhagen and I’ve been doing a lot of research so we have been talking with the American journalists and people who know how the archives work over there. Also we had shot some of the scenes in Texas, so there’s a lot of collaborations with film crews.

CS: Did you do some shooting in Greenland?

CR: Actually we didn’t. The reason was that the one shot that we had to make in Greenland was the plane crash. Since we don’t have the money to do a real plane crash we have to do it digitally. When we were editing we found all this archival material from the accident and I felt much more stronger than if I went out to create similar scenes. So we decided to take archival material. Also, the story takes place after these people came back from Greenland to Copenhagen. So it didn’t make sense to go to Greenland – not to mention it’s very expensive to go to Greenland. We don’t have that much money to make films in Denmark.

CS: What were your thoughts about your use of the music, especially as you have a lot of electronic music?

CR: I was discussing with myself if we should make a classical soundtrack where you have a scene and when the scene builds up to a high or a turning point then comes the music to make the feeling go into the music and be stronger in the scene. That’s the traditional way of using music in film. What we found out was actually we do the exact opposite and do music that is more mathematical and cold and actually a little bit robot like. This would leave all the emotional impact of the story up to the actors. I think it was something that we wanted to experiment with. Music with no emotions so the story could create the emotions itself. In a melodrama the music would pump up the feelings and here we do the opposite. I think it was a more truthful way to manipulate the audience about something that is real. I might do it differently next time, but for this story it was perfect.

SM: And it was a great idea. The soundtrack is fantastic, and it’s also very brave. I love people when they have these ideas. Sitting in the cinema you’re like wow – electronic music coming out. That makes it fantastic.

CR: I also think it makes the film look a little sexy. Because these guys aren’t too sexy and there’s a lot of guys in suits or with facts and intellectual stuff. So with the music it has drive, it’s cool, it creates some kind of dignity to the characters and it’s sexy!

CS: What was the pre-production process like?

CR: We started writing the script in 2008, so seven years ago. So we’ve been writing, researching, talking to people all at the same time. We didn’t find the archival material until we were in the editing process. So I think it was spread out over a very long period of time. Everyone works at the same time doing different stuff.

I will always do documentary and fiction. When we were working on The Idealist we had a big crew and actors shooting in three countries. It’s great to go and do a documentary as it’s very intimate and at some point you get bored of the intimacy and want to do something big.

CS: What was it like to work with Christina?

SM: I never thought about Christina as being into documentary.

CR: The way I direct is I let him direct. The first day we met up on the shoot

SM: Here it comes

CR: I was a little anxious because he’s a big star and he knows what he does and doesn’t want to do. I’m the boss so I say yes and no in shooting. So first day of the shoot Søren comes with the scene that we are going to do and he has re-written the scene. He says he wants to do his scene and I read it and I think it’s okay and so I am really frustrated – it’s a power game. I go to the toilet, I bite the handkerchief, I go back out and say that we’ll shoot his scene but if it’s not good enough then we’ll shoot mine afterwards. So we shoot the scene and I love it and we didn’t shoot my scene. I think this story is about the respect between an actor and a director. I create room for Søren so I can give him the space to make his own choices and that’s my job. Sometimes I help him but I don’t help him a lot.

SM: That was a good answer. I do have some kind of experience over the last ten-fifteen years. With that experience you need to trust in yourself more and more. I didn’t want to offend Christina.

CR: But you did

SM: I did! And I took the risk. But if you had told me ‘it’s not going to happen!’ That’s one thing to worry about – I would’ve left the set or just have done your scene but maybe doing it in a very bad way. When I actually sign the contract and agree to be part of this I feel very much responsible for taking part. The way for me to feel I’m part of it is to do it my way. Not all the time, but that was the first day. I feel I need to come with something. I didn’t say it wasn’t good enough, but mine is probably better.

In my world, the perfect day in the office as an actor is that – if Christina and I talk. If we agree on and we talk about the character, we walk along the canal, we agree on the scene. Don’t tell me how to do it, just let me do it. If it’s totally fucked up then we have to talk about it. Don’t feed me with cheese before I think I’m hungry. Just let me do my work – and now I’m hungry!

CategoriesIssue 11
Sandra Fijn van Draat

Sandra Fijn van Draat is pursuing her passion for film making by studying Multiplatform- Storytelling and Production in Århus, Denmark.