"We tried to make the film as clean and pure as possible"
by Annika Pham
12/02/2010 - Thomas Vinterberg had his breakthrough with the first Dogma movie, The Celebration (Festen). Attracted by the Hollywood lights, he then explored different styles in English, with It’s All About Love [trailer] and Dear Wendy, before returning to his native land to direct When a Man Comes Home [trailer].
You had financial and time restraints, plus Danish broadcaster TV2 asked that half your cast and crew be first-timers. How did you feel about those limitations?
Thomas Vinterberg: The very limited budget gave me very little time, so I had to make fast decisions. I decided to stay simple, and throughout the making of the film we tried to make it as clean and pure as possible without using mannerisms in the sentimental journey.
Regarding first-time actors and crewmembers, I liked the idea. It was a great opportunity. That eagerness, energy, whole-hearted devotion from people starting a career was amazing. I had been missing this from when I did my graduation film at the Danish Film School, prior to Dogma. I enjoyed that.
Submarino is a very tough social drama. Was it hard to make a story like that without including any sort of sentimentality?
Of course I was very tempted. I had CDs full of strings music. It was simply too much. Obviously, there was this fear in my body that the film would become too dark, so dark that people would reject it. Somehow, humour and sentimentality opens up the audience. But we did not use much of that.
How did you work with the actors if you had so little time during shooting?
We had some time before shooting. I did a lot of rehearsal and research with the writer. In a way we tried to tear down the barriers between us and them (the two brothers in the film). Jakob Cedergren (who plays Nick) went out and stayed with ex-cons. I stayed in the hostel where we shot the film. I called an old classmate who had used heroin for 20 years. I said: “How do you do it? Why? Show me where they do it. How much does it cost?” He stopped three years ago so he was able to take me through the process. So there was a lot of curiosity, almost attraction towards that environment. As filmmakers, curiosity is our main fuel.
In terms of [how I directed] the young actors, I had to create a safe environment for them, getting to know them and then tell them what to do. I had to teach the young boys how to look comfortable with the baby, how to smoke, then how not to smoke.
Would you agree that the two brothers are tortured by society?
This is a movie about two brothers trying to reach the surface; escape from the fate society gives them and from their mother. I was struck by two things when reading the book: brotherhood and fatherhood. As parents, we fear not being able to care for our children. At the time, I was alone with my kids for the first time, which is why this story had such a strong impact on me. Plus with modern family lives, even though there is no incident between family members, life seems to make you float away from each other.
In the film, the brothers are separated by life and even by the structure of the film. When they find each other, it may be too late.
Was it nice to make a film in Danish after having shot several films in English?
Language doesn’t matter to me. What matters is what country you’re writing for. English is universal. I’ve worked in Danish. I’m working in German now, on a theatre play in Austria. It was great going back to the Danish language I used at film school.
Is the Dogma concept dead?
It’s completely dead…until someone makes a new Dogma film. In my mind it’s completely over. It was a revolt against something. It became a fashion and thereby died. In Denmark, in the late 90s, you could find Dogma furniture. Now it’s old-fashioned.
There seems to be a crisis in Denmark. Films don’t perform as well as before and the industry is questioning its own support system. What is your opinion on this?
You can discuss if the crisis is with Danish films or Danish audiences. After having been very strong in the 90s, self-sufficient, and even arrogant, Danish cinema is now in a vulnerable state. It’s always like that. My career is like that. But from where I am, it’s more interesting. You have capable Danish filmmakers, fumbling a bit in the darkness, investigating, exploring and finding new ways to go. This is interesting, but this is also where we need support, where we feel weaker. Denmark is trying to re-define itself.