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“We wanted to make something really fantastic”

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Joachim Trier • Director

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- TORONTO 2017: After winning the Critics’ Prize at the Norwegian International Film Festival, Joachim Trier’s fourth feature, Thelma, is having a Special Presentation at Toronto

Joachim Trier  • Director

Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a regular at the Toronto International Film Festival, which has shown all of his films – his feature debut, Reprise [+see also:
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 (2006), which received the festival’s Discovery Award; Oslo, August 31st [+see also:
trailer
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interview: Joachim Trier
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 (2011); and Louder than Bombs [+see also:
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]
 (2015).

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His fourth feature, Thelma [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Joachim Trier
film profile
]
, which is having a Special Presentation at the 42nd edition of the festival, unspooling from 7-17 September, will arrive with strong backing: it opened the 45th Norwegian International Film Festival in Haugesund on 20 August to five- and six-star reviews, and the Norwegian Film Critics gave it their annual award at the closing ceremony. 

After the English-language Louder than Bombs, Trier has returned to his mother tongue with Thelma, which he scripted alongside his usual collaborator Eskil Vogt, and which stars Norwegian actress Eili Harboe (with Kaya WilkinsEllen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen) as a young woman who falls in love and discovers that she has frightening and inexplicable powers.

Norwegian producer Thomas Robsahm, who staged the supernatural thriller for Oslo’s Motlys, remarked, “The international premiere of Thelma at Toronto is perfectly timed for the October-November launch in North America by Sony’s The Orchard.” Meanwhile, local distributor SF Norge has scheduled the local premiere for 15 September.

Cineuropa: Thelma is your fourth feature co-written with Eskil Vogt. How did you start working together?
Joachim Trier:
I met Eskil when I was 18 and he was 19 – we were film fans and went to the cinema together. I was very clear that I wanted to make movies, and he had the same dream. While I was educated at the National Film and Television School in the UK, he studied Literature and Philosophy at the University of Oslo (where we actually filmed some of the horror scenes for Thelma), and he later took Film Studies at Paris’ La Fémis. 

Girls with supernatural powers are rare in Oslo. Why did you want one for Thelma?
Eskil and I wanted to make something really fantastic. We both grew up in the 1980s, reading Stephen King and Japanese cartoons, and listening to 1970s and 1980s synthesizer music, like John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream. We wondered whether it would be possible to combine that sort of material with the story of a Norwegian girl, who realises that something deep within her is making her lose control of her life. We wanted something that had the visual potential to venture into nightmares and mystery, while leaning on a genre – a supernatural story more than an allegorical tale, but still about human beings. And then we tried to figure out how to tell it. 

How did you find your lead actress?
To Thelma, falling in love with another girl is very problematic, and then things she wishes would happen start happening – or do they? It was difficult to find our lead – after all, she had to act with snakes and under water - but then Eili turned up. She wanted to do her own stunts and really went for it; I don’t think I have ever been so worried in my life during a shoot. She went through therapy and did breathing exercises so that her epileptic seizures would look real. Her performance is extraordinary, and I could well imagine that she will be the next big thing to come out of Scandinavia.

Norwegian films seem to be everywhere. What has happened?
Some years ago, nobody watched Norwegian films – now I believe less in nations than in the collaboration of individuals. I think a few Norwegian filmmakers changed the situation, fighting for their style and content, with political and financial support and incentives. I returned to Oslo from London, where I had studied and had intended to work, because I saw an opportunity to make exactly the kind of films I dig, dream of and fantasise about back home. The ambition and the spirit have not changed – I make the films that my gang and I want to make. I have not done anything purely out of strategy – I am not smart enough for that.

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