Baltasar Kormàkur • Director
"The humour and folly of reality"
- The Icelandic director talks about himself and his second feature, The Sea: "Given that I am half Spanish, I am not a great fan of Scandinavian melancholy"
Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormàkur first came to the forefront of international attention with his directorial debut, 101 Reykjavik, a movie that won numerous awards. He is back with a new film, his second, The Sea [+see also:
film profile], which is about to be released in France. Set in a small fishing village in the extreme north of Iceland, it is a family drama about a legacy and the impact of economic change on the village and its inhabitants. We met with the multi-faceted filmmaker in Paris.
Like 101 Reykjavik, this new film, The Sea centres on the family unit. Why does this subject inspire you so much?
"I think that the family is something very special. We are born into a family, we do not get to choose it and must live with it for all of our lives - for better or worse. This allows for some very interesting and varied human relationships, based on love and hate. Strong sentiments that I am passionately interested in, without ever losing sight of the important social role played by the family".
There are neither good nor bad people in The Sea: the characters are infinitely more complex. Is that the way you see the world?
"I try to be honest in my films, it is not my intention to suggest simple answers. I want to portray human beings realistically and not give the spectator the chance to put them into social pigeon holes. It does not pay to trick the public with happy endings: the point is for people to leave the cinema asking themselves questions like "what kind of life do we want?" Villages are fast disappearing, big cities are absorbing entire populations: "Is globalisation a good thing?" There are no simple answers and the audience must decide for themselves. When my film was released in Iceland, it generated numerous political debates because it was critical of fish quotas. I don’t pretend to be the font of all truth but there is lots of room for discussion here".
Why did you include a foreign character in each of your two films? Victoria Abril in 101 and Hélène de Fougerolles in The Sea?
"From a personal point of view, I have always felt out of touch with Icelandic cinema because I live amongst strangers. I speak English for about a third of my life and Iceland has become a very international place. My father was born in Barcelona but my family is a mix of Indian, Italian and Spanish blood.
In The Sea, Hélène de Fougerolles personifies the typical Parisienne: beautiful and sophisticated. As far as she is concerned, there is no way she will accept to live in this tiny Icelandic village and every audience in the world can appreciate that on seeing the family and the place as she sees them.
The producer,Jean-François Fonlupt, introduced me to several French actresses but I knew Hélène was right for the part as soon as I met her."
Was The Sea a difficult film to finance and make ?
"As far as funding is concerned, it was much easier than my first film. The screenplay was selected by the Sundance Institute as one of the three best European projects of the year. Then Emotions Pictures got involved in the production followed by a show of interest from distributors, Pyramide.
Making the film, however, was extremely difficult. We suffered from a lack of light, an extremely isolated location, rushes that had to be taken to Paris and back when we wanted to see what we had shot, variations oin temperature of between –10° C to +15° in a two-day period... But that was also interesting because problems tend to generate intensity".
What are your next projects ?
"I am preparing two films. The first is entitled A Little Trip To Heaven and will be an English-language thriller. The second, Saga, is an adventure and is based on Icelandic legends that are similar to an almost mafia-style story of the complex relationships of Icelandic families".
You are also an actor and producer. Which profession do you prefer ?
"I became a producer out of necessity even though I do appreciate this stage of the development of a film. I was unable to find a single person in Iceland who could have done that instead of me. Given the international profile my career is taking, I can put my future into someone else’s hands and, for example, I am not the producer of A Little Trip To Heaven".
Acting is something completely different. I like to play, it is always a good experience to give up control, to depend on someone else, and accept domination after having been in a domineering position because I was the director. I recently took part in Solveig Anspach’s latest film, Stormy Weather".
Which European directors do you feel you have the most in common ?
"I am a great fan of Emir Kusturica’s work. The humour, the folly of reality, that is what attracts me and I find these things all around me. I am also very involved in theatre ; I love Shakespeare and Ibsen and that is what gave me an appreciation of Nikita Mikhalkov, a filmmaker whose skill comes from the theatre. "
Given that I am half Spanish, I am not a great fan of Scandinavian melancholy. So I don’t subscribe to films like, for example, those by Aki Kaurismaki, even though he has made some wonderful films. Nor am I an admirer of Dogma films, and believe that the movement will run out of steam soon. It was an interesting exercise but I am not sure it will leave a mark on the history of cinema. More that anything else, it was more of a fashion and a phenomenon that was exploited by the media".
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